Charity Commission chair says it will be tougher on charities with terrorism links

William Shawcross says the commission's new board would 'grasp the nettle' and take stronger action against charities and trustees involved in wrongdoing

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

The Charity Commission will be tougher on charities with links to terrorism and has called for new powers that will allow it to disqualify trustees, the regulator’s chair, William Shawcross, has said.

Speaking at the Rathbones Annual Charity Symposium in London yesterday, Shawcross said the commission’s new board, which includes Peter Clarke, former head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Metropolitan Police, would "grasp the nettle" and take stronger action against charities and trustees who were involved in wrongdoing.

Shawcross said there were three areas that the new board would focus on: the regulator’s approach to serious non-compliance; its approach to charities that repeatedly fail to file their accounts; and its work to prevent and tackle terrorist abuse of charities.

He also said that the commission would be publishing its new guidance on public benefit on its website early next week.

In his speech, Shawcross echoed comments made yesterday by Sam Younger, chief executive of the commission, by saying that the regulator was calling for a general power to disqualify trustees.

Shawcross said the commission would not only get tougher on charities that did not comply with the law and are under investigation, but had also asked "for a change to the law itself".

"We have asked the government for a general power of disqualification that allows us to stop unfit people flitting from charity to charity," he said.

The commission does not have any powers to disqualify trustees that are suspected of wrongdoing but who step down from a charity before the regulator is able to take action, Shawcross said.

"And, this is even worse, you can be convicted of a terrorism offence or money laundering and you can still be a trustee of a charity," he added.

The commission will also get tough on charities that consistently file their accounts late, and is in discussions with HM Revenue & Customs about withdrawing Gift Aid in such cases, he said.

But Shawcross said the regulator would not "come down like a ton of bricks" on trustees that were just "too laid-back".

The commission will also step up its work in "tackling the terrorist abuse of charities", Shawcross said. "The enlisting of charities for terrorist purposes is a terrible inversion of everything charities stand for."

Shawcross condemned charities, such as student unions, that invited extremist speakers to attend events.

"We put out clear guidance for charities on extremist, controversial speakers," he said. "It is unacceptable for charities to promote the views of individuals who themselves espouse violence and terrorism.

"No preacher of murder should have the protection of freedom of speech or charity law."

Shawcross also called on trustees to be bolder in speaking out about how much they pay their staff, following criticism in the media of highly paid chief executives. 

"If trustees feel it is in their charity’s interest to pay high salaries to attract talented people, then they should have the courage of their convictions and explain their decisions publicly," he said.

"They must step up and take responsibility for keeping the public informed and for maintaining public support. No one else is going to do this on charities’ behalf."

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