When the Charity Commission's website migrated in September to gov.uk, one lesser-known set of pages was not transferred to the government portal.
The commission's 84 operational guidance documents, the OGs, exist to help staff understand laws and regulations, give them procedures to follow and tell them how to deal with various situations. They were previously publicly available on the commission's own website, but now they can be found at ogs.charitycommission.gov.uk.
The OGs give an insight into how the commission expects its staff to work, listing, for example, nine ways in which a charity could be abused by terrorists (OG 410), or the process by which statutory inquiries are opened (OG 117-5). They provide decision flowcharts for staff, tell them when to go to a commission accountant or lawyer and suggest what advice they should give to trustees. There are also quirky parts: OG 551-1, for example, outlines the development of the British education system, and starts by taking commission staff all the way back to the eighth-century works of the monk and scholar the Venerable Bede.
Charity lawyers, who invariably describe the OGs as indispensable or invaluable, were disconcerted by the migration: some were unable to find them and others feared that the commission might be about to remove them from public view altogether.
"It's useful for pretty much everything," says Shivaji Shiva, a senior associate at Anthony Collins Solicitors. "A quick survey of colleagues here finds that the flowcharts that accompany some of the OGs can be very helpful, particularly when explaining the options available to clients."
Lawyers rely on the OGs; others, however, give them less attention – a number of governance consultants who were contacted by Third Sector had either not heard of or not found them; one had come across them by accident. Charities themselves are even less familiar with the OGs, although non-lawyers should be able to use them, according to Sylvie Nunn, a partner at Wrigleys. "Charities should know they are there and can use them to decide whether they need to ask the commission or go to a lawyer," she says.
Benjamin James, a partner at the law firm McCarthy Denning, warns against using the OGs as a short cut to avoid paying for legal advice. "The commission says you don't always need such advice, but there are times when someone doesn't go to a lawyer and we end up sorting things out later on," he says.