Commission publishes final public benefit guidance

Regulator makes a number of significant concessions

The Charity Commission has made a number of significant concessions in the finalised versions of its first four supplementary guidance documents on public benefit, published on Wednesday.

The documents have been extensively rewritten from the draft versions, published by the regulator for consultation in March.

Many of the concerns of religious charities have been taken on board by the commission. One example is their insistence that broader charitable work such as poverty relief and promotion of peace cannot be separated from the concept of advancing religion.

The commission has also widened its interpretation of 'prevention and relief of poverty to include addressing 'social exclusion' such as not having internet access.

The guidance on education dismisses the argument that giving means-tested bursaries to the brightest state school pupils should count against the public benefit provided by private charitable schools, whereas the education guidance says that entrance exams should not be regarded as unreasonably restricting access to schools' public benefit.

The consultation elicited 675 responses. Public benefit and the advancement of religion provoked the most responses, with 263. Public benefit and fee-charging received 189; Public benefit and the advancement of education received 165 and Public benefit and the prevention or relief of poverty received 58. The commission has included a summary of the responses and a commentary of how it dealt with them in each of the finalised documents.

The results of a public benefit assessment of a sample of charities in the four categories will be published in the spring. Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the commission, said: "As well as assessing whether the individual charities meet the public benefit requirement, this work will identify wider themes and points of interest for those sub-sectors."

A consultation on Public benefit and the advancement of moral or ethical belief systems was launched in September, and closes on 5 January. General guidance on public benefit was published in January. All charities in England and Wales will have to start reporting on their public benefit from 31 March 2009.

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