Editorial: Trustee payment for large charities will not go away

The government was right on balance to say no to payment without Charity Commission permission, but the unease and the anomalies remain, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

The government was, on balance, right to say no at this point to Lord Hodgson's proposal to allow large charities to pay their trustees without permission from the Charity Commission.

The mood of the majority of sector membership and policy bodies, and probably of the sector in general, was against it; no evidence has yet emerged that charities with a good case for trustee payment are being unjustifiably knocked back by the commission; and most people have more pressing things on their minds these days.

But the issue is not going to go away. As charities become more businesslike, they seek more trustees with particular skills and knowledge, and often want more time from them. Some charities already pay trustees for 30 days of work a year, while others are demanding more than twice that amount of time from unpaid chairs. It's an uneasy, anomalous situation, and the pool of people with the right skills who can give enough time unpaid is probably shrinking.

On other fronts, the response to Lord Hodgson's review of the Charities Act 2006 by the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, is provisional: he wants to wait for the report on the same subject by the Public Administration Select Committee before making his final response. Ministers do sometimes take note of what select committees say if it suits them, but it should be remembered that the Hodgson report was a requirement of the act rather than a choice of government, and any excuse to move slowly is probably welcome. So knotty problems such as payment by charities for registration and annual filing, and fines or loss of Gift Aid for late filing, are still being kicked about.

Nonetheless, the Hodgson report has already played a significant role in achieving the laudable recent progress over self-regulation of fundraising in general and face-to-face in particular. Hodgson said confusion needed sorting out, the government let it be known that it agreed - and lo and behold the bodies concerned got on with it. The controversy over face-to-face is far from over, but it has diminished.

- See how the issue of paying trustees has developed by visiting our Big Issue

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