Charity Commission wants umbrella bodies to get involved in regulation

Annual public meeting of the regulator, which is facing cuts of a third to its budget, hears chair Dame Suzi Leather say she wants charities to be more self-reliant

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission has begun talks with voluntary sector umbrella bodies about the possibility of them taking on aspects of regulation.

The commission also wants the forthcoming review of the Charities Act 2006 to lead to further deregulation and enable trustees to take decisions wherever possible.

The plans were revealed during the regulator’s annual public meeting in London yesterday. Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission, which faces cuts to its budget of a third over four years, said it would publish a new four-year strategy by the end of the year.

She gave four "headline priorities", one of which was to help the sector become more self-reliant: "Part of this is enabling charity trustees to take their own decisions wherever possible, and we will want under the forthcoming review of the act to ensure that there is further deregulation where it is appropriate."

Leather said the commission wanted to strengthen the umbrella infrastructure bodies. "We will be reducing the amount of effort we put into advising charities on a one-to-one basis," she said. "As we do this, we will seek to build up the strength and profile of umbrella bodies by expecting charities to belong to an umbrella body. We will look to those bodies to provide the one-to-one support where we cannot."

Leather said the commission’s three other priorities were improving accountability and compliance among charities, improving the way it uses technology and improving its efficiency.

She said the commission's year had been dominated by the strategic review, which is happening against a backdrop of a reduction in income from £29.3m in 2010/11 to £21.3m in 2014/15. 

The cuts did not mean "a let-up on protecting the sector", she said, and "in fact, more of our staff will be trained to deal with cases involving serious regulatory concerns, including fraud, than before.

"We exist to serve the public. We may work with charities, but we do so on behalf of the public, not on behalf of the sector."

Leather said there might be a need to "seed" new umbrella bodies in areas of the sector where they don’t exist.

Sam Younger, chief executive of the commission, said the regulator wanted to encourage charities to join umbrella bodies. "If we could be dealing with a limited number of umbrella bodies rather than 180,000 individual charities, that’s got to be a plus," he said.

Younger also revealed that the commission, which has offices in Liverpool, London, Taunton and Newport, had considered reducing its sites to "one or two" as they emptied because of staff redundancies.

But he said the penalties for getting out of long leases and any resettlement costs made that impossible.

The commission spends £3.3m a year on property and accommodation, its second highest expense after staff, which account for £19.3m.

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