Draft guidance on belief systems and public benefit abandoned

Chartiy Commission consultation leads to about-turn

The Charity Commission has abandoned its draft guidance on Public Benefit and the Advancement of Moral or Ethical Belief Systems after the majority of respondents to a consultation said it was not relevant to all rationalist and humanist charities.

The draft guidance was published last September and the consultation ran until 5 January. A spokeswoman for the commission said she was unable to expand on the reasons for the about-turn until the summary of responses to the consultation was published in due course.

In its response to the consultation on the draft, the Charity Law Association described the guidance as "confusing, inaccurate and unhelpful" because it treated the advancement of moral and ethical belief systems as equivalent to the advancement of religion, even though it was not a recognised charitable purpose. The CLA said it should be rewritten to set out the valid charitable purposes that secularist charities might have and how they should demonstrate public benefit (Third Sector Online, 8 January).

The commission spokeswoman said it now intended to produce a document along the lines of its RR series of guidance reviews that would "look more broadly at the scope and meaning of advancing moral or ethical welfare", including spiritual welfare. "This would include purposes furthered by organisations that advance moral or ethical beliefs, rather than focusing solely on public benefit issues," she said.

Nicola Evans, a senior associate at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said she was concerned about the level of commission resources and consultees' time spent on producing public benefit guidance. "There are already concerns about the accuracy of the current guidance and how it will be applied by the commission," she said. "It would be helpful for that to be clarified before further resources are committed."

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