Commission's nine-month inquiry target 'is almost impossible'

The Charity Commission's target of completing all formal inquiries within nine months may be impossible to achieve, according to Kenneth Dibble, the regulator's executive director of legal compliance.

Dibble told the commission's open board meeting on Wednesday that formal inquiries were invariably complicated and always ran the risk of exceeding the target period.

The commission currently takes an average of 437 days (14.5 months) to complete formal inquiries. Dibble said the figures were skewed by a number of long-term cases that were still working through the system, including the recently completed Smith Institute inquiry.

"There's a sense that an enquiry takes as long as it takes," said Dibble. "If you are dealing with trustees who won't cooperate, it will take longer.

"It is not helpful to state a timeframe because we don't want to rush into judgement. We could follow up with statutory powers more quickly, but that makes trustees even less cooperative."

He also suggested that the clock on inquiry times should be stopped when other regulators or the courts become involved in inquiries.

David Locke, executive director of charity services at the commission, admitted targets could drive bad behaviour, but said they also "concentrate the minds of the team".

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission, said the board was committed to assessing whether the nine-month limit was too short, but not to abolishing it. She suggested estimating a completion time for each inquiry when it was opened. Dibble said he endorsed the idea if it was qualified.

He also said the target of publishing inquiry reports within three months of the completion of an inquiry should be achievable in most cases. The commission currently meets that target only for 44 per cent of inquiries.

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