The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, which acts as the independent complaints reviewer for the Charity Commission, is allowing the commission to see its reports and suggest changes before they are shown to the complainant.
The practice, described by a CEDR official as a "contentious point", is a requirement of the agreement it concluded with the commission in March, when it took over assessing complaints about the watchdog from the previous reviewer, Jodi Berg.
The commission says the practice is for the purpose of checking factual accuracy, ensuring no privileged information is contained in any report, and allowing the commission to comment.
The practice has been highlighted by Jon Danzig, who complained to the CEDR earlier this year about the regulator’s handling of a dispute between him and the Pituitary Foundation. He discovered that the draft report had been shown to the commission before him and changed as a result.
"You would not expect a judge in a case to check with the defendant what he or she thinks of the judgement before it is made, and not let the plaintiff see it at the same time," he told the complaints reviewer in an email. "This gives the impression of something being hidden from me."
A schemes manager at the CEDR responded by email: "This issue of not sharing the draft report with the complainants has been a contentious point since we took on the scheme. The compromise we reached was including a separate section within the report to note any comments and changes from the draft to final version."
Danzig told Third Sector the draft report was two pages longer than the final version, published last month, but did not include a note about changes that had been made. "In the interests of transparency, I want to know what was changed and why," he said.
Graham Massie, the independent complaints reviewer at the CEDR who wrote the report on Danzig’s case, said he had made only minor changes to the report, such as phrasing sentences more clearly and correcting typing errors, after it had been shown to the commission. He had not included a note about the changes, he said, because he considered them insignificant.
Massie said it was "not an unusual practice" for an independent complaints reviewer to check with an organisation that any recommendations made were within its remit to implement. Asked whether the requirement to show the draft report to the regulator but not the complainant was contentious, he said: "No comment."
A spokeswoman for the commission said its service-level agreement with the CEDR required it to send all its draft reports to the commission before they were released to the complainant.
"The express purpose for this is to give the commission an opportunity to check the factual accuracy and context of reported events, ensure that no privileged or otherwise restricted information is featured in the report and comment on the conclusions reached by the reviewer before they are released to the complainant," she said.
"At this stage, the commission also has the opportunity to raise any difficulties it foresees in accepting or implementing the recommendations. This process enables an exchange of views, but does not interfere with the independence of the complaints reviewer."
Massie said that it was not obliged to act on points raised by the commission and could leave them out of the report if it saw fit.