Charity Commission research finds support for proposed extensions to the regulator's powers

Charity Commission: new powers being debated in parliament
Charity Commission: new powers being debated in parliament

Research commissioned by the Charity Commission shows significant public support for two of the new powers that are due to be given to the commission by the new charities bill and for the idea that charities be made to part-fund the regulator.

Trust and Confidence in the Charity Commission, which is published today, was put together by the research firm Populus, which put 31 questions to 1,001 members of the public and 25 to 1,129 trustees or senior charity staff.

It is the first time such a report has been published and comes as the result of a specific recommendation in the report on the commission by the National Audit Office, published in January.

One question Populus asked was whether people supported or opposed the regulator being given the power to ban people with certain criminal convictions from being charity trustees and to shut down charities after inquiries into misconduct or mismanagement. This refers to two of the 12 powers contained in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, currently making its way through parliament.

According to the report, the proportion of the public saying they supported those new powers was 83 per cent; 8 per cent said they opposed them. The remainder said they were neutral or did not know. Among charities, the proposals were supported by 92 per cent of respondents and opposed by 3 per cent.

Populus also asked how the commission should be funded – 25 per cent of the public said it should be through tax receipts alone; 56 per cent said they thought there should be a mixture of public funding and a fee paid by charities; 13 per cent said it should be funded entirely by charities.

The report says that 68 per cent of the charities surveyed opposed being charged for regulation and 21 per cent supported a mixed funding model. Only 2 per cent of charities said the commission should be funded by charities alone, and 10 per cent of charity respondents said they did not know.

William Shawcross, chair of the commission, said the research showed that the sector and the public "recognise the need for new powers for the Charity Commission and I welcome their support as the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is being debated in parliament".

He said: "This is a vital piece of legislation if we are to have the powers that we need to stop individuals abusing charities.

"This research also shows that a majority of the public would like to see charities make a contribution to their own regulation, with a significant minority of the sector agreeing. We must look into all the options for placing the commission’s funding on a more secure footing."

Ninety-eight per cent of public respondents said they agreed that the commission’s role was important, but 53 per cent had not heard of it. Nevertheless, 65 per cent of respondents thought charities were well regulated in England and Wales; 12 per cent said they thought they were not well regulated.

Those among the public respondents who had heard of the commission were asked to rate how much trust and confidence they had in the regulator on a scale of zero to 10 – the average score was 5.96, and the vast majority of respondents said their view of the commission had not changed in the past two years.

This figure was slightly below the corresponding figure of 6.1 for the same question in the 2014 edition of the separate survey Public Trust and Confidence in Charities, which is carried out every two years by the polling company Ipsos Mori for the commission. According to the Populus survey, trust and confidence in the commission among charity respondents was higher than among the public, at 8.3 per cent.

The national Audit Office report in January said the figure of 6.1 from the 2014 survey should be the baseline for public trust and confidence in the commission and "the target is for year-on-year improvement".

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