Charity Commission considers making charities specify religious objects in annual returns

The regulator says it would need to assess whether this is a feasible addition to the return in 2016

Will the regulator ask charities to specify their religious objects?
Will the regulator ask charities to specify their religious objects?

The Charity Commission is considering asking charities to provide more information in their annual returns about any religious objects they have.

Paula Sussex, chief executive of the commission revealed the regulator's thinking this week in replying to a written parliamentary question about how many inquiries into faith-based charities of each faith the regulator had opened.

In a letter sent to Kate Green, the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, Sussex said the commission did not hold information on which religion individual faith-based charities existed to advance. Sussex wrote: "In terms of the data we hold about charities, the advancement of religion is not broken down further by a particular faith and does not identify multi-faith purposes or no particular faith at all.

"To assist in our analysis work, we are considering asking charities in the next annual return consultation for a further breakdown."

Asked what information charities might be asked to provide, how the categories might be broken down, when this might be introduced and what had prompted the move, a spokeswoman for the commission said that the information in Sussex’s response was taken from the annexe of the regulator’s report Tackling Abuse and Mismanagement, which was published in December.

"We are often asked how many Christian, Muslim or Jewish charities there are, and our ability to answer that is currently limited," the spokeswoman said. "Any work to get a further breakdown would need to be looked at in the context of our overall classification system."

She said the commission’s thinking on the matter was at an early stage and it needed to assess whether this was something that would be feasible for the next annual return in 2016 before going any further.

"If we were to make changes to the classification of charities, we would want to consult on them," she said. "This would feed into a wider review of the way in which we collect and display information from charities and the systems used to do that."

Appearing before MPs on the Public Accounts Committee in January, Sussex was asked about the number of inquiries into Muslim charities the regulator had open.

She said the commission did not tag charities according to any religious objects, but was confident there was "no institutional bias in any respect" at the regulator.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, told Sussex she could not be sure this was the case if the commission did not keep records on such matters.

Sussex said in response: "You may well be right, chair, that we need to set up a system whereby we code against particular segments of the register."

Hodge replied: "I would be grateful if you would take that idea away and consider it."

Earlier this week, the commission released its updated annual return, which includes new questions on how much money charities receive from government grants or contracts, their pay policies and their financial controls.

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