Charity Commission website 'misleading and confusing' on charity spending, says report

A paper from nfpSynergy says the site 'misleads, misattributes, muddles or makes charity finances less transparent in a range of significant ways'

Financial information on regulator's website criticised
Financial information on regulator's website criticised

The Charity Commission’s website provides "misleading or confusing" information about how charities spend their money, according to the consultancy nfpSynergy.

A Tangled Web: Ten Ways the Charity Commission Website Makes Charity Finances Less Transparent, published today, examines the information displayed about individual charities on the regulator’s online register.

It says the site "misleads, misattributes, muddles or makes charity finances less transparent in a range of significant ways".

One of the examples cited in the report is the entry on the commission website for the NSPCC, which includes a pie chart about the charity’s expenditure that says it spent nothing on fundraising or trading activities, despite its accounts showing that it spent £23m and £4.5m respectively in those areas last year.

NfpSynergy’s report says missing out data on spending to generate voluntary income and trading to raise funds skews spending graphs and makes it looks like the charity in question "spends a higher percentage of its expenditure on charitable activities than is really the case".

It says that some charts conflate figures on fundraising and trading that can give a misleading impression of spending in this area.

The commission is working on a new online register that can be viewed as a beta site.

But the nfpSynergy report says that financial information about charities is harder to find on this site, misleads with its use of colours on certain graphs and no longer shows trading expenditure on pie charts.

"This litany of inaccuracy, mislabelling, mistakes and misattribution is bad news," the report says.

"It’s bad news because the Charity Commission’s chair has said that building public trust is her number one goal. And if the public can’t trust the Charity Commission to produce accurate, transparent and easily accessible information, who can they trust?

"The Charity Commission should be a role model for producing accurate information about how charities raise and spend their money.

"As it stands, the Charity Commission website is part of the problem, not part of the solution, in giving donors and the public accurate information about charity finances."

Sarah Atkinson, director of communications, policy and planning at the Charity Commission, said there were weaknesses in the way information about charities was displayed on the online register and beta search tool.

"It is vital that the public has access to authoritative, accessible information that helps them to make informed decisions about charities they wish to support," she said. "This falls on the commission as registrar and regulator of charities. Getting this right is a key priority.

"Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. In addition, we rely on charities to keep their information accurate and up to date - unfortunately this doesn’t always happen."

She said the regulator was taking steps to ensure the commission showed the information the public wanted to see in a format that was useful, informed by what the regulator knew about public expectations of charity.

"We are also speaking to a wide range of users, interested parties and experts about how they currently use the online register functions, and how they feel they could be improved and strengthened."

The commission was also "building our in-house skills and capacity to make sure we have as much control and flexibility to improve and tweak the online display in future", said Atkinson.

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