NCVO chief to urge change to public benefit test in England and Wales

Sir Stuart Etherington will tell the AGM of the Association of Jersey Charities tonight that the test should be more like the one used in Scotland

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, will this evening call for England and Wales to have a public benefit test similar to the one used in Scotland.

In a speech in St Helier to the annual general meeting of the Association of Jersey Charities, Etherington will say that the Charities Act 2006 has made "some progress" towards simplifying public benefit rules but that "further clarification in law" is needed.

He will say that parliament should outline principles that could be used to judge public benefit and the existing test used in Scotland "seems to strike the right balance".

"There has been considerable debate about what charities need to do to show that they benefit the public, particularly those that charge high fees for their services," he will say. "So there is a role for parliament to outline what principles should be used to judge public benefit.

"We are not asking for a comprehensive definition. That is something we would still resist: it would either be extremely long and ossify the concept, or so broad and vague that it would end up being practically meaningless.

"The Scottish test seems to strike the right balance, because it provides some guidance of public benefit without imposing a restrictive definition.

"The Scottish approach puts some flesh on the bones and makes it a bit easier for people to understand the idea of public benefit."

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator says in its guidance that it must consider "how any disbenefit to the public is balanced against benefit to the public" and whether there are "any unduly restrictive conditions" on members of the public obtaining benefit.

Jersey’s government is considering introducing a definition of public benefit and a system of regulation for charities for the first time.

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