Charity Commission to name all charities subject to statutory inquiry

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the regulator, says the new approach emphasises its commitment to transparency

Michelle Russell
Michelle Russell

The Charity Commission has said that it will begin naming all the charities into which it opens statutory inquiries unless there are clear reasons not to do so.

The regulator has so far announced that it has opened a statutory inquiry into a charity only if there are "specific public interest arguments for doing so", a statement from the commission said.

But it said it would announce all inquiries from now on unless there were special circumstances.

Such circumstances might be a joint investigation that the police had asked remained unpublicised, a situation in which going public might prejudice the inquiry or security reasons.

As a result of the commission’s new policy, it has named 13 charities, including Muslim Aid, as the subject of previously unannounced statutory inquiries.

As part of its announcement, the commission said its transparency drive included the launch of a new and improved online register of charities, which would flag up those charities under investigation. It had previously hoped to launch the new register shortly after Easter.

The commission said in its statement that the move to publicise all statutory inquiries "comes in response to increased public interest in information about charities under investigation" and was designed to increase transparency.

Some inquiries also become public knowledge without the commission announcing them; for example, if the charity appeals against the opening of the investigation at the charity tribunal.

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the commission, said it opened 64 statutory inquiries in 2013/14, compared with 15 in the previous year.

"This changed approach emphasises our commitment to being a transparent regulator that serves the public, including by helping people make informed decisions about which charities to support," she said.

But she also warned against the public jumping to conclusions when such announcements were made. "Opening an inquiry is not in itself a finding of wrongdoing," she said.

Malcolm Lynch, a partner at the law firm Wrigleys, said he was concerned by the news. "The reputation of a charity is integral to its success or failure," he said. "By publishing low-level reports before anything has been found to be wrong, the Charity Commission is potentially damaging the reputations of those charities and undermining public trust and confidence in those charities that are named."  

But Emma Moody, head of charities at Bond Dickinson, said the news was "a positive thing as long as they get it right". However, she said she was  concerned that the wider public would pay attention only to startling headlines, with few members of the public ever likely to read the full inquiry reports from the commission.

The commission currently has 84 inquiries open, of which 57 are public knowledge, including the 13 named yesterday. These 57 include a class inquiry into charities that filed their annual documents late – only six charities remained under investigation in this inquiry when the commission last reported its findings.

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