Regulation with Rosie: Transparency

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on the importance of transparency.

Initiatives to promote transparency can, if interpreted too literally, end up reducing it. When the Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force, the Charity Commission, as a public authority, could have taken several routes. For each request we received, we could have provided exactly the information requested - no more and no less. In reality, we offer as much relevant information as we proportionately can to answer each request.

The majority of charities are not public authorities as defined under freedom of information rules, but they are not immune to charges of hindering transparency. The commission regularly gets calls asking us why charities won't send out copies of their annual reports or answer questions about their work.

I've always found this baffling. Some charities do somersaults to try to get public attention, but others are putting up barriers to supplying even the most basic information. Although the legal requirements to make accounts and annual reports publicly available on request might be fairly narrow, it's surely in the interests of charities to provide information about themselves whenever they're asked for it.

It might be realistic to assume that an aggressive journalist is asking for information because he or she has a bad news agenda, but that's unlikely to change because you refuse to provide what is being asked for. What's more likely is that the journalist, or disgruntled member of the public, will find their way to the commission, where they're often surprised about how much information is freely available on our website.

So if you're approached for information, don't think about what you don't have to provide; think instead about what you can provide.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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