Nesta proposes new regulatory framework for social finance

With the law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, it wants to get rid of 'onerous' restrictions and make it easier to lend money to charities and social enterprises

Nesta report
Nesta report

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite have proposed a new regulatory framework for social finance aimed at making it easier to invest in voluntary sector organisations.

The framework would create new legal categories of 'social investment' and 'social investor'. The two organisations hope to persuade the government to make it into law.

They would be overseen by a social finance regulator that would operate within the proposed Financial Conduct Authority, the successor to the Financial Services Authority.

"At the moment, it's easier to give £100 to charity than to lend £100 to charity," said Luke Fletcher, an associate at Bates Wells & Braithwaite and author of the report.

The new framework, he said, would make it easy for charities and social enterprises to create a financial prospectus for a bond or share offer, without the need to offer the tight protections for investors that are currently required.

"The main target for this would be the mass affluent, who are not currently considered sophisticated investors," Fletcher said. "Charities would like to create offers targeting these people, but they find the legal restrictions too onerous."

Fletcher said there were already exemptions for community benefit societies, formerly known as industrial and provident societies, and he wanted to extend these to all third sector organisations.

"I think there's a chance of getting this into law now," he said. "There's a real window of opportunity. The reform of the Financial Services Authority is already under way, there's big interest from government in social investment and there's a drive to reduce red tape for the sector."

The Cabinet Office has expressed support for the idea of a new regulatory framework in its strategy paper Growing the Social Investment Market, in which it said it would "seek further evidence on the impact of the regulatory framework on social and community investment to assess whether it is proportionate".

One of the six key recommendations in Lord Hodgson's report on red tape in the third sector, Unshackling Good Neighbours, was the creation of a class of "social investors" who could invest under less strict guidelines because they understood they were receiving both a social and financial return.

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