Many local authorities are unaware of their duty as sole trustees of charities, or even that they hold charitable assets in trust, according to a new guide from the Charity Commission and the Local Government Association.
The jointly issued guidance for local authorities says councillors had encountered problems in the past because they had not complied with restrictions on the use of charitable assets, had been subject to conflicts of interest between popularity with the electorate and their duty as trustees, or because they had overlooked the details of their charitable duties.
The four-page guide advises councillors to ensure they have a clear knowledge of their powers and duties, understand potential conflicts of interest and periodically review whether they should continue as trustees.
Several recent cases have seen local councils sell or misuse council land because they were unaware of their duties.
"It is very important that local authorities understand their roles and responsibilities as sole trustees of charities to ensure that any assets they hold are applied in line with charity law," said Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission.
"There is often a lot of public interest in such matters. I would highly recommend that all local authorities with these reponsibilities read this short guide and also take note of other relevant guidance that is listed."