A warning about increased charity fraud is the main focus of a campaign launched this week by the Public and Commercial Services Union against cuts to the Charity Commission's budget and staffing.
The union, which represents between 50 and 60 per cent of the commission's 422-strong workforce, says the regulator's staff already feel unable to investigate allegations of fraud properly. It says the problem is likely to grow when cuts come into force from April 2011.
Sam Younger, the commission's chief executive, has said one way of coping with a cut in the budget from £29.3m in the current year to £21.3m in 2014/15 would be to stop investigating complaints about charities with incomes below a certain level.
A document outlining the union's campaign strategy says: "Committed Charity Commission staff have long felt frustration that a lack of resource has meant they have only ever scratched the surface in the area of deliberate wrongdoing."
It says staff at the commission are "itching to address these failings, which have been explained away by management on the basis of 'risk and proportionality', which is too often used where a more accurate explanation might be 'lack of resources'".
Kevin Broad, a senior accountant at the regulator and secretary of the London branch of the PCSU's Charity Commission committee, said the union was particularly worried about the proposal not to investigate allegations of fraud at small charities.
"This is not a policy, but it's a suggestion we're concerned about," he said. "The idea that small charities might fall victim to fraud and it would go unlooked at is worrying. Lots of small-scale fraud could add up to something significant, and saying we won't look into small-scale fraud is a dangerous message to send out."
The union has invited MPs to a drop-in session in Parliament today. Its members are also asking MPs to sign an early day motion, tabled by Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, that asks the government to review the commission's budget settlement.
Younger released a statement that said: "We share the union's concern about the impact on our staff of reduced funding. It's too early to say what the strategic review might mean."