The sheer volume of change that is affecting the world of charity finance is almost overwhelming sometimes. This makes it increasingly difficult for charity trustees to keep abreast of their duties - and, one suspects, for the regulator to keep an eye on it all.
Various measures ...
In the recent past a consultation has begun on the revised rules for the independent examination of charity accounts, proposals for a new Small Charitable Donations Bill were put forward in the Queen's speech, new plans were announced by the joint regulators on what should be reported under the whistleblowing regime, and the implementation timetable was issued for the Charities Act 2016 (trustees might want to note that some sections come into force this July).
The independent examination rules have not been refreshed since they were first issued following on from the 1992 Charities Act - and, although they have done their job, things have moved on. Notable developments have been the raising of the audit threshold to charities with incomes of £1m a year in England and Wales, the formation of separate regulators in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the response to Kids Company. All of these are reflected in the new guidance in one way or another, and there is a welcome proposal to reword the actual report into something more intelligible. For many examinations the new rules will have little impact, but where the finances are more complex or the charity operates as part of a group, trustees and examiners need to take note of the changes. The timing of the consultation probably means that the new rules will affect December year-ends onwards.
Reporting by auditors
Still audit-related, and still Kids Company-related, are the new proposals for auditors and examiners to report directly to the country regulator when they come across matters of "material significance". This is another regime that has been in place since the early 1990s and has, broadly, failed.
Whereas these reports are fairly routine in other sectors, in charities they are rare. That is because the requirements are judgemental and the handling of these matters by the Charity Commission did not, in the past, provide much backbone to the process.
The new rules are a reworking of the old list of issues, with some new topics, some dropped. The new topics are to report qualified opinions, conflicts of interest and failure to respond to auditors' recommendations. This is a sharpening of the regime and is also likely to be in force from the end of the year.
Small donations bill
It might have only a minor impact, but nonetheless it was good to see that the Queen's speech included proposals for a Small Charitable Donations Bill. This is needed in part to boost a scheme that was designed to encourage Gift Aid generally, but has signally failed to deliver what was intended. It will not transform any one charity's fortunes, but hopefully it will encourage the take-up of Gift Aid generally.
And it sounds as though encouragement is needed - the Charities Aid Foundation published its UK Giving report for 2015, showing overall giving has fallen from £10.1bn to £9.6bn. It's possible that no one would be surprised, given the torrid time the sector has had. Neither was it surprising to note that women are still more generous than men, or that only 2 per cent give through payroll giving. It is perhaps more heartening that children are now deemed more worthy of support than animals - unless this simply represents an area of increasing need.
Don Bawtree is lead partner for charities at accountants BDO LLP