Charity says its latest paper will 'guard against encroachment' on regulator's independence

The Directory of Social Change has published The Three Pillars of Independence, which it says will encourage readers to question whether the Charity Commission is making its own decisions

The Directory of Social Change has published a document designed to help people assess the independence of the Charity Commission.

The DSC said today that its publication would "help monitor and guard against encroachment on the regulator’s independent decision-making".

The document, called The Three Pillars of Independence and published today, invites users to consider questions about the independence of the regulator in the areas of politics, populism and the press.

"The Charity Commission is accountable to parliament, not the government of the day, and its independence is fundamental to how its legally binding decisions are perceived within the sector it regulates," the DSC said.

"Charity trustees – almost entirely volunteers – need confidence that decisions made by their regulator are impartial and based on the law, not the views and opinions of whatever party is in power."

The paper invites users to ask such questions as whether announcements from the regulator reflect the law or a party opinion, if they are supported by robust evidence or if they appear to mirror political rhetoric or ideology, and whether the regulator’s board is relying on party members or other political allies, such as party-aligned think tanks, to inform policy decisions.

The research and publishing charity was among the sector organisations to call on the government to halt the appointment of former Conservative peer Baroness Stowell as chair of the regulator before she was given the job in February because of concerns it would damage public trust in the regulator .

Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the DSC, said recent governments had "sought leverage over the Charity Commission via the appointments process".

He said: "To anyone paying attention it’s obvious that relevant administrative expertise, experience of charities or knowledge of charity law have been secondary to other considerations. This is a deeply disturbing trend."

Stowell’s two predecessors, William Shawcross and Dame Suzi Leather, had attracted criticism from some for alleged political biases towards the Conservative Party and the Labour Party respectively.

"Charity trustees need confidence that their regulator is operating in an objective way, based on the law and evidence, not unduly influenced by political rhetoric or press hyperbole, said Kennedy.

"We’ve published this toolkit as a bulwark to support the commission’s independence and confidence in its legally binding judgments."

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