Commercial services dilute the public's understanding of charity, Lord Hodgson says

Peer tells the Charity Law Association conference that such confusion could damage the sector

Lord Hodgson
Lord Hodgson

Lord Hodgson has warned charities that they risk diluting the public’s understanding of what constitutes a charity by becoming too reliant on professionals and offering commercial services.

During a speech at the Charity Law Association conference yesterday, Hodgson emphasised the importance of the charity sector retaining its brand identity.

Hodgson, whose review of the Charities Act 2006 was published earlier this year, told delegates that he had encountered a variety of charities, from those that employed no volunteers and paid all their staff, to those that were funded entirely by government.

He said that the fact that some charities now provided commercial services such as insurance under their charitable branding could dilute the public’s understanding of what constitutes a charity.

"These are the sorts of issues we very much need to think about, and the sector needs to think about," he said.

It was potentially damaging and difficult for the sector unless such issues were resolved, he said.

Hodgson said it was vital the sector remained flexible to allow for the growth and development of new concepts such as social investment. "A lack of neatness must be the price we pay for a vibrant sector," he said.

After his speech, Rosamund McCarthy, a partner at the law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, questioned Hodgson on political campaigning by charities – something, she said, his report had not addressed.

Hodgson acknowledged this was regularly brought to his attention by MPs and was another issue that could confuse the public’s understanding of the charity brand.

Hodgson's comments come just days after Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, raised concerns about how the culture of professionalisation had alienated some people from charities.

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