Charity Commission improves registration times but faith unit hits some snags

33 days is the average time to process a charity registration

The commission took an average of 33 days to process successful applications in 2008/09, its lowest-ever figure. Of the 5,410 new charities registered, 549 applications were fast-tracked and dealt with in less than three days, and 1,200 online applications were cleared within two days.

Purkis singled out the latter figure for praise at the commission's open board meeting last week. "This is an opportunity for us to put across the facts," he said. "It is important at a time of recession when people are thinking of setting up charities to meet rising need."

David Locke, director of charity services at the commission, said the improvement could be attributed partly to the growing number of online applications. "Where applicants are using an approved document, we can register them very quickly," he said. "If we have an application that is novel or complex, or raises issues of public benefit, it will take as long as it takes."

Locke also revealed that the commission had formally rejected 43 registration applications in 2008/09. More than 2,000 applications were withdrawn before a final decision was reached, he added.

The figures showed that the commission's charity services division met most of its targets. It responded to customer queries within 7.2 days on average, and responded to 94 per cent of queries within 15 days.

BRIEFS FROM THE BOARD MEETING

The Faith and Social Cohesion Unit's outreach events in Lancashire had to be cancelled earlier this year when only a tiny number of representatives of the local Muslim community turned up. The commission was informed that the counter-terrorism police raids in Burnley had "re-heightened apathy, resentment and suspicion regarding government-based activities". Subsequent events were cancelled.

Legal mistakes were made in the drafting of some orders and schemes last year. Locke emphasised that they concerned "only a handful" of the 790 orders made. But legally qualified board member Simon Wethered said: "From a reputational point of view, it is serious if we are exercising our legal powers incorrectly."

"Pre-nuptial agreements" should be written into the constitutions of new charities, according to Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission. The clauses would set out procedures for resolving disputes between trustees on matters such as membership.

Commission staff satisfaction levels are rising The regulator's 2009 staff survey had an 84 per cent response rate, compared with 59 per cent in 2007. Average satisfaction was 69 per cent; it was 54 per cent in 2007. Staff absenteeism is also down from an average of 9.6 days per employee per year in 2007 to 6.5 days per year pro rata in the first quarter of 2009.

Staff will receive a 3.75 per cent annual pay rise for the next three years. Leather described the rise, reported last year, as "generous". Sarah Bailey, head of HR at the commission, said the deal was agreed when inflation was 5 per cent.

The commission's trustee vacancy portal (Third Sector Online, 30 March) will go live when the commission's website is relaunched at the end of September. It will contain commission guidance on trusteeship and link to trustee brokerage organisations such as Charity Trustee Networks.

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