Finance: Larger charities face 'bureaucratic' tasks on annual returns

Large charities will have to summarise their strategies, achievements and financial health in their annual returns to the Charity Commission in 2005.

For the first time, they will have to complete a Summary Information Return as part of their annual returns, the commission said last week.

The SIR, a recommendation from the Government's 2002 review of charity law and regulation, is obligatory for all charities with an annual income above £1m.

The return includes sections that ask charities to outline the key elements of their strategies, compare objectives with achievements, list the cost of fundraising activities and describe their financial health.

It also asks for a breakdown of each charity's income and expenditure, and how it ensures that governance arrangements are appropriate and effective.

The SIR has had a troubled history. A first draft of the return was condemned as "simplistic" by a focus group of charities, and some sector representatives have voiced fears that it could be used to make crass comparisons between charities.

An NCVO spokeswoman said: "We have not changed our view and still see this as a missed opportunity. It's a bureaucratic tool, not a way of improving communication between a charity and its public."

But the commission said it has tried to keep regulation proportionate and has reduced the number of questions that charities must answer in the annual return.

Chief executive Andrew Hind said: "We want to make life easy for charities wherever we can. We've cut the red tape and are reducing the regulatory burden on charities to the absolute minimum necessary. But we have to make sure we keep the register up to date and obtain information from larger charities to help us with our monitoring and compliance responsibilities."

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