Brexit means regulator's consultation on charging 'not on the agenda at the moment'

At the Charity Commission's annual meeting, chief executive Helen Stephenson says the government's focus on the EU means the government is too busy to pursue charging charities to fund the regulator

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The government’s focus on Brexit has delayed the Charity Commission’s attempts to launch a consultation on charging charities to boost its funding.

Speaking at the commission’s annual meeting in Manchester today, Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the regulator, said a consultation on the measure was "not something that is on the agenda at the moment" because the government was too preoccupied with other activities.

A statement from the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport said that, although the government was committed to putting the regulator’s funding on a secure footing, its priority was agreeing a Brexit deal.

The Charity Commission has been pushing for a consultation on charging charities for a number of years, having suffered serious budget cuts since 2010 and a big increase in demand for its resources.

But any move to introduce a levy on charities to fund the regulator would probably require legislation being passed by parliament.

The commission received a temporary £5m increase in its budget last year to help meet demand, but has argued that more funding is needed to improve its services to the wider charity sector.

The regulator was believed to be close to issuing a consultation in 2017 before that plan was derailed by the government’s decision to call a snap general election.

The idea was postponed again to allow the commission to develop a new strategy, which was published last year.

Answering a question at the regulator’s annual meeting today, Stephenson said the commission was not going ahead with a consultation for the time being because the government was too busy.

"The question will remain open as to whether or not charging is something the government would want to pursue," she said. "It is not something that that we are in a position to pursue; it is something the government has to pursue.

"And, as you know, the government at the moment has other things on its agenda. We recognise there is a discussion to be had, and I think we will need to have that discussion. It is not something that is on the agenda at the moment."

Stephenson said the commission had wanted to "set out our stall" to the sector with the new strategy, which comes into force next month, and any future consultation would be "very wide".

A statement from the DCMS indicated that the focus on Brexit had led to the consultation proposal being put on ice.

"We are committed, as highlighted in our Civil Society Strategy, to working with the Charity Commission to explore options for placing it on a secure and sustainable financial footing and ensuring it is adequately resourced to meet future challenges," the statement said.

"As you’d expect, departments across government are currently hard at work preparing to deliver a Brexit that is in our national interest, and we are prioritising our resources accordingly."

Asked to provide an update on the Charity Commission's funding, a spokeswoman for the Treasury said the department was "engaging with a range of stakeholders, including the Charity Commission, ahead of the Spending Review".

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