Charity Commission proposes requiring charities to say what they spend on campaigning

The regulator opens a consultation on changes to its annual return, including a proposal on campaigning that was put forward last year by the Public Administration Select Committee

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission has proposed requiring charities to say how much they spend on campaigning activities as part of changes to the annual return.

The regulator has today opened an eight-week consultation on changes to its annual return that will come into force for returns due in 2015. 

The proposals include asking new questions about whether a charity has a remuneration policy for its executive staff, whether it has carried out a review of its financial controls during the year and how much of its income came from public services delivery and private donations.

It also proposes asking charities with annual incomes of between £10,000 and £500,000 to provide additional information in their annual returns about voluntary income, income from investments, spending on charitable activities and spending on fundraising.

The new requirements would also apply to charitable incorporated organisations with annual incomes of less than £500,000 a year.

The proposed change would have most affect on charities with annual incomes of between £10,000 and £25,000 because they are currently required to provide only their income and expenditure figures for the year.

The new information would be displayed on each charity’s entry on the commission’s online register.

Charities with incomes of between £25,000 and £500,000 would already be providing this information through their annual accounts, a commission spokeswoman said.

The proposal for charities to outine their spending on campaigning, put forward last year by the Public Administration Select Committee, is likely to be the most controversial.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said he was concerned about the proposal. He said that the amount that charities spent on campaigning was not a regulatory matter.

"We are in favour of the principle of transparency and believe that charities can and should communicate clearly with the public about their activities," he said. "However, because charities do not currently account for campaigning costs separately in this way, this new accounting requirement would be unduly burdensome for charities. Trying to arrive at a single figure would certainly be difficult, given the different elements of spending that might be considered as campaigning costs." 

Jane Hobson, head of policy at the Charity Commission, said the regulator was committed to ensuring the accountability of charities by maintaining the accuracy of its online register.

"We do not want to create an undue burden on charities, but the information that we collect from them is one of our most valuable regulatory tools, and we want to ensure we are able to make the best use of the annual return," she said.

"We think the public has a right to access this information about the charities that they support, and we are keen to hear views from anyone with an interest in the register of charities as well charities that complete the annual return."

The consultation closes on 12 August.

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