Charity Commission registration process 'hampers new community organisations'

Uturn UK founder Martin Graham tells charity tribunal the regulator is setting a stiff test

Martin Graham
Martin Graham

The Charity Commission’s approach to registering charities makes it difficult for new community groups to succeed, the founder of the community development group Uturn UK has told the charity tribunal.

Martin Graham, who set up the organisation to encourage the development of "street associations" in which local residents arrange community activities with their neighbours, appeared before the tribunal in Birmingham yesterday to appeal against the regulator’s decision in August not to register it as a charity. He first applied to register the group in May 2010.

Kenneth Dibble, head of legal services at the commission, told the hearing it could not register the group without evidence that its work was successful. "We would want to see the beneficial impact of the work and the efficacy of what the group is doing before we could conclude that there was a benefit," he said.

"It has got to be clear that the street association concept will deliver the group’s outcomes. Otherwise it is merely aspirational thinking."

Graham said this placed a heavy burden on the group. "I’d like to say that the commission is providing us with a very stiff test for any organisation," he told the tribunal.

"Is the commission really taking the view that anything new can’t be given charitable status until it has run for a year or two? If so, how will it be funded in that time? We can’t apply for funding without charitable status. We have funded this through a remortgage and a pension drawdown. You put people in a difficult position if you say they have to run for a number of years first."

Uturn UK has proposed that its charitable objects would be the promotion of citizenship and community development and the advancement of the Christian faith.

Dibble said the commission’s concern was that street associations would be able to carry out activities that did not deliver community development. He also said it was unclear how Uturn UK would carry out its object of promoting the Christian faith. He said, however, that the commission had not ruled out registering Uturn UK.

"If it was possible to articulate the purposes in clearer language, one can see a way in which community development could be delivered through this mechanism," he said.

Graham said it would not be possible for non-charitable activity to take place because the objects said there had to be a "framework that will engender civic responsibility and volunteering".

Dibble also said he hoped the tribunal’s decision would clarify the meaning of "community development" so that it was easier for other community development groups to know whether they could register with the commission.

The case was heard at Phoenix House, Birmingham, by the tribunal judge Jonathan Holbrook and two tribunal members, A’isha Khan and Manu Duggal.

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