Charity Commission under fire for removal of inquiry reports

Taking reports from website after six months amounts to protectionism, says civil liberties campaigner

Louise Ferguson, founding chair, Open Rights Forum
Louise Ferguson, founding chair, Open Rights Forum

A civil liberties campaigner is challenging the Charity Commission's decision to keep reports of its formal investigations into charities on its website for six months only.

Louise Ferguson, founding chair of the Open Rights Group, has written to the Information Commissioner's Office claiming the regulator is in breach of its freedom of information publication scheme, which describes how organisations should make information publicly available.

Until three years ago, the commission kept inquiry reports on its website for two years. But the board then decided reports should be removed after six months and replaced by a list of charities investigated over the past five years. Those reports are available by request only, and investigations more than five years old are not listed on the website.

Ferguson, whose organisation campaigns for freedom of expression on the internet, said the change suggested that the regulator was more interested in protecting charities' reputations than telling the public about wrongdoing.

"People paying money to charities should know if they have been subject to an inquiry," she said.

"But they have to be really dogged to find the reports. It smacks of a protectionist attitude. But the commission is not accountable only to charities. There needs to be transparency to the wider public."

Ferguson said she thought any charity that had been investigated over the past five years should have a link to the inquiry report placed on its page in the register of charities.

A commission spokeswoman said the decision to reduce the length of time reports stayed online "was recommended following feedback from some charities that inquiry reports remaining on the website for some time was having a negative impact on their reputations long after the underlying issues had been resolved by the charity".

The ICO is planning to assess the commission's adherence to its publication scheme in the next two months as part of a wider exercise to monitor the compliance of regulatory bodies.

An ICO spokeswoman would not comment on Ferguson's concerns in detail but said public bodies were advised to archive old materials "where the amount of information available on the website starts to make finding newer material difficult".


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