Charity Commission fees should apply only to charities with £1m-plus incomes, peer says

Baroness Pitkeathley, a Labour peer, was speaking at the House of Lords debate on the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

The Charity Commission should consider charging fees only to those charities with incomes of more than £1m, a Labour peer has told the House of Lords, although a minister told the house that the government "has no plans in place yet" for such measures.

Peers were yesterday debating the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill. Among the amendments tabled was one from Baroness Pitkeathley, a Labour peer, to insert a new clause ordering a review of the Charity Commission’s funding arrangements.

Pitkeathley said she assumed that the government would not increase the commission’s funding and wanted ministers to look at other ways of funding it. Research commissioned by the regulator and published last week showed public support for charities paying some or all of the commission’s costs – although most charities opposed these plans.

Pitkeathley said that it would not be appropriate to charge fees of all charities, saying that an income threshold should be set. "I think that the commission itself has suggested a £100,000-a-year income threshold, but in my view that is not nearly high enough and the threshold would have to be much higher," she said. "Say, an income of £1m before any fees were charged, and then there would have to be a sliding scale."

She said the government could not bring in such a scheme "without significant quids pro quo being established", such as guaranteeing the independence of the commission, which she said was currently in doubt.

Lord Bridges of Headley, the parliamentary secretary in the Cabinet Office and the CPSI bill’s sponsor, said the commission’s new strategic plan, published yesterday, "makes it clear that the Charity Commission cannot devote the same level of resource to each of its statutory objectives as it previously could".

He went on to say: "It accepts that means changing the way it operates, allocating resources by relative priority and risk, and working with partners. The commission is looking at various options. However, I should stress that there are no plans in place yet."

Pitkeathley’s amendment was withdrawn – under parliamentary convention, amendments tabled in grand committee stage are never put to vote but are debated in order to inform the wording of potential amendments to be tabled at the subsequent report stage.

Other amendments discussed included one about charities’ power to engage in political and campaigning activity – Bridges responded by saying he wanted to "make it categorically clear that the government supports charities’ right to campaign within the law" – and another that would ensure the victims of terrorism or other offences that had been funded or facilitated by unincorporated charities were able to claim compensation.

The proposal, which was put forward by Lord Bew, a crossbench peer, based on a recommendation by the think tank the Henry Jackson Society, was rejected by Bridges on the grounds that this was already possible under civil liability legislation.

Peers also debated the definition of social investment as set out in the bill and the duties that should be put upon trustees of charities making social investment. Yesterday was the third of four days in grand committee, with the final day scheduled for next week.

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