The stories of the month: Policy & Politics

The Charity Commission has revised its guidance on charity campaigning in the run-up to the EU referendum, a move one sector lawyer described as a "significant climbdown". The guidance no longer says it would be "inevitable" that charities would become involved in campaigning around the forthcoming referendum only in exceptional circumstances. Instead it says it would be "likely" that charities would campaign on the matter only in exceptional circumstances. Earlier, the commission released guidance warning charities that if they chose to campaign in the EU referendum they risked breaching its guidance on political campaigning and charity law. The guidance was criticised by charity bodies for using the wrong tone. One sector lawyer, who asked not to be named, told Third Sector changes to the guidance represented a "significant climbdown" by the regulator.

Charity umbrella bodies said they were "deeply disappointed" by a reply from Matthew Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to a joint letter calling on the government to scrap the anti-lobbying clause. The heads of more than 150 charities and sector bodies wrote to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider plans to insert a new clause in all grant agreements from 1 May that will prevent such funds from being used by charities to lobby government. A four-paragraph reply from Hancock, sent to Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the new clause was about ensuring government grant funding was spent as intended.

About 500,000 more people are using the services provided by charities on a weekly basis than was the case two years ago, according to research by the Charities Aid Foundation. The research found that 3.7 million households used charitable services once a week, an increase of 500,000 on a similar survey carried out in 2014. Using a charity's services is defined as interacting with anything a charity does, such as accessing medical support or financial advice or visiting a charity shop. Charity shops were the most widely used service, according to the survey.

The Cabinet Office has indicated it will go out to tender for one or more partners to provide government grants to the charity sector. In a prior information notice submitted in the Official Journal of the European Union, the gazette of record for the EU, the government's procurement channel, the Crown Commercial Service, said it intended to develop a government framework agreement for use by UK public sector bodies for the provision of grant design, delivery and support services. It is understood that the framework is not intended to cover all government grant-making and its use will not be a mandatory requirement for public bodies. The charity chief executives body Acevo warned that "proper dialogue" with the sector about the proposals was crucial.

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