Charity Commission discusses public benefit 'competition'

The Charity Commission is considering introducing a competition for the best public benefit statement on charities' annual returns after a suggestion made at its open board meeting last week.

A provision of the Charities Act 2006 requiring charities to report on how their activities have contributed to public benefit comes into effect at the end of the current financial year.

The suggestion for a competition was made by Greyham Dawes, director of the charities unit at accountancy firm Horwath Clark Whitehill, who said the Charity Commission should have an award similar to the Charities Aid Foundation's accountancy awards, which he helps to judge. "Charities' obligation to report on public benefit in their returns raises the stakes, and it makes sense for the commission to have its own award," he said.

The Charity Commission board also discussed plans to introduce examples of public benefit reporting into its example accounts and reports. Board member Andrew Purkis suggested the examples should be formulaic and address each point of the commission's public benefit guidance.

But his colleague Simon Wethered worried that such an approach might give trustees an excuse to "disengage their own minds". He said: "We don't want this to be a banal exercise in people telling us what they think we want to hear."

Andrew Hind, chief executive of the commission, agreed that the examples needed a "health warning".

The updated example accounts will be published by the end of the year. Examples of public benefit reporting aimed specifically at independent schools will be produced after the commission's final guidance document on public benefit and fee-charging is published at the end of the year.

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