Expert view: Trustee payment goes case by case

The Charity Commission does not take this issue lightly, despite the CfBT Trust decision.

A great deal of controversial comment greeted the revelation that the Charity Commission had given its permission for a major charity - the CfBT Education Trust - to pay some of its trustees. And by no means has all of it been supportive of the decision.

We have been reminded that it is often difficult to find new appointees for many boards and that such a relaxation of the hitherto inviolate rule that no trustee should ever be paid might make this simpler. However, the stark fact is that the core issue in this case has been completely misunderstood by many people.

Clear specifications

In being permitted to make such appointments, the CfBT Education Trust had to demonstrate to the commission that it had defined not only specific responsibilities but also clear job specifications for the trustees it wished to remunerate. Their appointment followed a transparent and open recruitment process, and the trust then gave assurances that accountability for monitoring their performance would remain with the elected trustees.

All of these points were fundamental to the new arrangements that were agreed to in order to strengthen the governance of this large and active charity.

As with the other organisations - very few in number - that have had similar permission granted by the commission to pay one or more trustees, the CfBT Education Trust is very conscious of the responsibility that has been placed on it to ensure that the freedom to recruit and pay a minority of its trustees is exercised properly.

Case-by-case basis

In response to some of the comment, the commission has reiterated that any similar requests to change a charity's governing document and allow payment of trustees will be considered on a case-by-case basis and that strong reasons will be needed if such permission is to be granted.

The long-held view that no charitable trustee should gain from his or her involvement is not one to be challenged lightly, and the commission will undoubtedly ensure that it considers each request very carefully before making a decision.

Of course, should any organisation feel that it would benefit from taking such a step, I'm sure it will find that the commission is receptive and prepared to discuss its perceived need. But it is essential for the charity in question to ensure it is well prepared and has a watertight case before it embarks on such a course. It should also be ready to accept that this is most certainly not an exercise in rubber stamping and that it could be in for a lengthy period of negotiation.

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