Charity Commission says sector income has increased by 17% in two years

But growth is expected to level out now, according to the regulator

The annual income of the charity sector has risen by 17 per cent to £52bn over the past two years, according to the Charity Commission.

The figures were presented at the regulator's annual public meeting last week. Charities' total expenditure last year was £48.1bn, of which £42.4 was charitable spending.

The figures come from data in the commission's online register for charities with annual incomes of more than £500,000 and extrapolated data for those with smaller incomes.

Mark Pinfold, head of charity information at the commission, said £52bn was "the size of a substantial nation". But he said he doubted that charities were feeling 17 per cent richer than in 2007 because much of the increase was accounted for by new charities set up in the intervening period.

He said he expected the rate of growth in sector income to level off during the recession.

The NCVO's latest Civil Society Almanac, which provides a breakdown of income in the sector, put income in 2006/07 at £33bn.

Ann Blackmore, head of policy at the NCVO, said the discrepancy could be explained by the fact that the umbrella body excludes from its figures the income of charity sub-sectors that are already calculated by the Office of National Statistics. These include churches, schools, colleges and, most significantly, housing associations.

A spokesman for the National Housing Federation, the umbrella body for housing associations, said between two-thirds and three-quarters of housing associations were registered charities. According to the NCVO almanac, housing associations had total income of £10.9bn in 2006/7.

The regulator said its sector and sub-sector-wide data would become available to users of its online register after an upgrade due next year.

1% of charities control 66% of income
118 - Number of people on the largest board
43 - Most trusteeships held by a single person
58 - Average age of a trustee
754,000 - People employed in the sector

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