Editorial: Rethinking charity law

Submissions to the Hodgson review of the Charities Act 2006 raise important issues, but the big questions should also be addressed, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

The first published responses to the Hodgson review of the Charities Act 2006 are bringing to the surface some of the sector's main concerns about the law and the way it operates. Some of the strongest views so far seem to be about the regulation of fundraising.

The main submissions on this have drawn attention to the evident defects of the present self-regulatory system: it's complex, it's not universal and sanctions are weak. The complexity derives partly from the fact that three organisations have a role in regulation. All are naturally keen to remain involved and there might be a scrap involved in devising a system that is simple, applies to all fundraising charities and has proper teeth.

A lengthy response from the Charity Commission is largely supportive of the status quo, but does wave one red rag at a bull by suggesting the removal of Gift Aid as a sanction against charities that fail to file their accounts on time. The sector is already upset over questions of tax breaks, so it's hard to see this one going down well.

Meanwhile, the umbrella bodies give a general thumbs-down to the idea of taking on some kind of regulatory role, an idea that emanated from the cash-strapped commission and is punted by Hodgson. A familiar minuet continues over trustee payment - Acevo is keen, others are not - and the Charity Law Association thinks there should be an ombudsman for the public to complain to about charities.

All of these are important questions that need dealing with, but there is not much in the responses that addresses the big picture Hodgson says he's also interested in. Perhaps there are too many vested interests in keeping things essentially as they are.

But does the whole concept of charitable status, freighted with its obscure complications and often bypassed by today's more go-ahead not-for-profit organisations, need a complete rethink? It's a view that is aired increasingly these days and needs proper examination. If the submissions don't do this, perhaps Hodgson should do it himself.

- Read our analysis

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