Expect more negative media coverage, Charity Commission director warns

Kenneth Dibble, legal director at the regulator, tells a panel discussion that he has seen evidence of material for further bad press

Kenneth Dibble
Kenneth Dibble

More negative stories about charities could appear in the national media in the near future, according to Kenneth Dibble, legal director at the Charity Commission.

Dibble delivered the prediction yesterday during a panel discussion at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite’s annual tea party event for its charity clients.

There has been a string of high-profile negative stories in the national media about the sector over the past 18 months, starting with major concerns about charities’ fundraising activities after the death of the fundraiser Olive Cooke and the sudden collapse of the youth charity Kids Company.

And Dibble hinted he had seen evidence of material for further bad press, but did not go into detail.

"From where I sit there are possibly some bad stories to come, so we’re not at the end of this," he said. "The media is clearly out of sympathy with charities, and that is going to continue."

Dibble said he did not know who had been responsible for leaking to The Daily Telegraph Charity Commission guidance on campaigning on the EU referendum before it was published.

In March, the Telegraph ran a front-page story that accused Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and The Wildlife Trusts of breaching the guidance – the story appeared on the same day the guidance itself was published.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who was also on the panel, said the story had not been an accident.

Dibble responded: "It might not have been an accident, but I don’t know who was responsible. And as far as the commission is concerned, as a corporate body the commission doesn’t know who was responsible."

The guidance was withdrawn and replaced with a revised document just two weeks after it was published. It had been criticised by charity lawyers and umbrella bodies as being too prescriptive in tone and misrepresenting the law.

At yesterday’s panel, Dibble defended the decision to revise the guidance, citing it as evidence that the commission was alert to the needs of the sector.

"What do you want? Do you want a regulator that churns out stuff and doesn’t listen to the sector?" he asked.

"Or do you want a regulator that is responsive to the sector’s requirements and tries to position its guidance to meet the wide variety of people who will look at it?"

But he acknowledged the commission needed "to put much more investment into this area".

He also said he was "still not happy" with the draft guidance on the commission’s new power to disqualify trustees, due to come in to force on Saturday. The commission is considering the draft after a consultation.

Many organisations responding to the consultation said the guidance was too vague

Dibble said the document needed to balance complying with the law, being accessible to different readers and outlining the kinds of issues over which the commission would take action while allowing it the power to act in unusual circumstances.

He told Third Sector: "I’m not happy with the document – I wouldn’t like to issue it in its current form." 

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