Charity tribunal has not worked, says Tory peer

Too few cases, too legalistic, too prescriptive, says Lord Hodgson, chair of the Big Society Deregulation Taskforce

Lord Hodgson
Lord Hodgson

The concept of the charity tribunal as a simple way of challenging decisions by the Charity Commission has not been realised, according to the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson.

Hodgson, who is president of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations as well as chair of the Big Society Deregulation Taskforce, made the comments during the second reading of the Charities Bill, which will consolidate charity law, in the House of Lords last week.

"The idea of the charity tribunal was to provide a quick, user-friendly, cheaper alternative to High Court proceedings so that small charities were not burdened by the risk that they would have to undertake if they appealed against Charity Commission hearings," he said.

"I am afraid that it has not worked. There have been very few cases. Those that there have been have been highly legalistic in their approach and we are back with silks, lawyers and everything else. The idea that we had for a simple remedy has not been fulfilled."

Hodgson said one problem was the "very prescriptive" decisions, directions or orders of the commission that the tribunal had to consider.

"If we are to make the tribunal as effective as we had hoped that it would be, a whole fresh eye is needed," he said.

The Charities Bill does not include provisions contained in the Charities Act 2006 to make the Charity Commission the lead regulator for public charitable collections.

The Conservative whip, Baroness Verma, said during the debate that such a move would have been "counter to our plans to devolve more power to local communities".

Verma said of the bill that there were concerns about the impact on the regulatory burden of charities and whether the commission had the funds to carry out the role.

"We now believe that the most sensible course of action will be to consider the regulation of public charitable collections as part of the wider review of the Charities Act 2006, which is due to begin later this year," she said.

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Phillips of Salisbury said key definitions in the bill were "not as clear as they could and should be".

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