Commission chief questions if it should be able to refuse to register controversial organisations

Helen Stephenson says the regulator is legally unable to turn down applications from organisations that meet the legal criteria

Helen Stephenson
Helen Stephenson

< This article has been amended; see final paragraph.

The Charity Commission should consider whether it needs more powers to allow it to refuse to register controversial organisations as charities, its chief executive has suggested.

Helen Stephenson told delegates at the regulator’s annual public meeting in Bristol today that many people assumed the commission had the power to prevent controversial organisations joining the register of charities when in fact it was legally unable to do so.

She said the regulator did not have the ability to remove a charity from the register as a sanction. 

"We are not able to refuse registration," she said, responding to a question about whether controversial charities covering areas such as religion or alternative medicine could be deregistered.

"If something is legally charitable, we have to put it on the register. Similarly we are not able to take charities off the register as a form of sanction.

"Whether our powers are in line with what you would expect is something we think we should consider."

The regulator was granted additional powers in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, including the ability to disqualify people from trusteeship and issue official warnings to charities. 

Stephenson told the meeting that the regulator’s call centre was now open for longer, with waiting times having fallen from about four minutes to less than a minute on average.

< This article originally said that the commission wanted powers to refuse to register controversial organisations. However, the regulator in fact said the move should be considered. 

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