Legal Diary: When will the regulator use its new-found power?

The Charity Commission was granted new powers by the Charities (Protection and Social Enterprise) Act last year

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

M'learned friends in the charity world are naturally all agog for the first uses by the Charity Commission of the various new powers it acquired in the Charities (Protection and Social Enterprise) Act of last year.

Its power to direct charities not to take a certain action has had its debut in the course of the statutory inquiry into the humanitarian relief charity Masoom, but we still await the first issue of warnings to charities and the discretionary disqualification of trustees – as far as we know (the commission told Third Sector it would be reporting on the use of its powers "in due course", but would not be offering "a running commentary").

The controversial aspect of the latter is, of course, the width of the commission's definition of behaviour that could trigger it: "Past or continuing conduct, whether or not in relation to a charity, that is, or is likely to be damaging to public trust and confidence in a charity or charities."

A pointer to its first potential use comes in the recent commission inquiry report into Hospice Aid UK, which found misconduct or mismanagement by both the former and current trustees in relation to the charity's relationship with its fundraising agency.

The current trustees are getting the benefit of the doubt because they are implementing an action plan to improve matters, but the report ends by saying: "The commission will be considering, in light of the findings and evidence, the fitness of the former trustees to be charity trustees." So watch that space.

Previously, of course, former trustees were more or less beyond the commission's reach, and resignation from trusteeship was a common ploy to avoid regulatory action.

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