Questionnaires issued today by the Office for Civil Society as part of the review of the Charities Act by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson ask whether there are too many charities, whether charities are accountable enough to the public and whether there should be a statutory definition of public benefit.
Two general questionnaires - one for charities, one for the public - are supplemented by shorter ones on nine specific areas, including the definition of charity, the role of the Charity Commission and charity mergers.
Both the charity and public questionnaires say: "Some people think that there are too many charities, and that this results in duplication and inefficiency. Is this a problem, and if so what could be done to address it?" They also ask: "Do you believe that charities are sufficiently accountable to the public?"
Both general questionnaires ask whether charities should pay an annual charge to cover the costs of running the Charity Commission, whether there should be a charities ombudsman and whether charities should be able to pay their trustees.
The questionnaire for charities asks: "Do you consider the renewed emphasis on the public benefit requirement, and reporting on public benefit, has been helpful or not?" It also asks whether the £100,000 income threshold above which excepted charities are required to register should be lowered.
Both questionnaires ask whether respondents agree with the statement: "Where a charity charges high fees to provide its services, it should, where possible, make more than minimal provision for those who cannot afford the fees." The Upper Tribunal ruled last year that this should be the case.
The questionnaires also ask whether the functions of a charity regulator should include determining whether institutions are or are not charities and resolving disputes within charities about their governance or activities.
They ask whether self-regulation of fundraising should be compulsory for fundraising charities, and whether there should be "stronger statutory regulation of fundraising".
The questionnaire for the public says: "A practical, non-legal definition of a charity could be ‘a group of individuals who associate together to pursue a charitable aim that benefits the public, in return for which they gain the benefits of charity status (normally registration with the Charity Commission over a certain financial threshold and access to tax exemptions and reliefs) but must follow certain rules and regulations’." It asks whether respondents agree with this definition.
The questionnaire on the definition of charity and public benefit asks whether there should be a statutory definition of the public benefit that charities are required to demonstrate under the act.
Further calls for evidence in areas including the self-regulation of fundraising and charity accounting and reporting will be issued over the next two or three weeks, the OCS said.
The questionnaires and calls for evidence, open until 16 April, can be found on the Cabinet Office website. Hodgson will also hold five events at different locations in England and Wales in February and March to discuss the review of the act. The review is due to be completed and laid before parliament before the summer recess.