A working group examining how fundraising in Northern Ireland should be regulated has decided to accept an offer from the Fundraising Regulator to field complaints about charities active in that part of the UK on an interim basis.
In a statement published on its website, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, which set up the working group, says it has been decided that the group will accept the FR’s offer while it carries out a more detailed consultation on the way forward for Northern Ireland.
It says the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations also offered to fulfil this role, but the group chose the FR for reasons including that "there will be no cost to the NI VCSE sector".
Unlike charities in England and Wales, Northern Ireland-specific charities have so far not been required to contribute to the set-up costs of the Fundraising Regulator or to pay an annual levy towards its running costs, although Nicva says the number of such charities in Northern Ireland that are large enough to pay the levy is minimal.
In England and Wales, only charities with annual incomes of more than £100,000 have been asked to pay.
Nicva’s statement cites other reasons for using the regulator’s services on a temporary basis, including that "this option provided a simple solution which was clear and easy for the public to understand in the interim period".
It continues: "This is only to be an interim arrangement until the consultation is complete and a decision has been made. It will in no way influence the final decision for Northern Ireland, and the working party will continue to develop relationships with all relevant bodies including the Fundraising Regulator, Information Commissioner’s Office, Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, the SCVO and the Scottish Independent Panel."
Nicva has been consulting the sector on the options for regulating fundraising in Northern Ireland since the summer, when Lynn Kennedy, fundraising advice officer at Nicva, told Third Sector that a decision was expected to be taken later in 2016.
When it announced its levy plans last August, the Fundraising Regulator said that "decisions on arrangements for fundraising regulation in Northern Ireland are expected to be taken in autumn 2016", but the FR’s website has since been updated to say that discussions on the arrangements are expected to take place in March this year.
Sandra Bailie, head of organisational development at Nicva, told Third Sector the decision was now more likely to come in mid-April.
She said the working group would be releasing a consultation paper inviting feedback from the sector in late January. Nicva still had no formal position on the matter, she said, though the most probable outcome was either to go under the remit of the London-based FR or to set up an independent panel, as in Scotland, because the third option – creating a fundraising regulator specifically for Northern Ireland – would probably be too expensive.
Asked why the decision was taking so long, she said it was because Scotland’s decision to create its own system of self-regulation had shown Northern Ireland that working with the London-based FR was not its only option.
The working group is made up of a range of organisations, including representatives from UK, Northern Ireland and all-Ireland based charities, as well as observers from the Department for Communities and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.