Government official talks down statutory regulation of fundraising

Ben Harrison, policy manager of the Office for Civil Society, says the statutory option is still "on the table" but is not the government's preference

Door-to-door fundraising: province of the PFRA
Door-to-door fundraising: province of the PFRA

The government is unlikely to introduce statutory regulation of fundraising, but the possibility is not "off the table", according to Ben Harrison, policy manager at the Office for Civil Society.

Addressing a Westminster Social Policy Forum seminar in London today, Harrison also pointed out that there was no prospect of a new definition of public benefit.

The Fundraising Standards Board regulates its member organisations in cooperation with the Institute of Fundraising. The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, another self-regulatory body, oversees street and doorstep direct-debit fundraising.

Harrison said that although statutory regulation was not off the table, it was not the government’s preference.

Speaking at the same event, Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: "Everyone seems to agree that self-regulation is preferable to statutory regulation, but nobody seems prepared to take it off the table."

Representatives from the FRSB and the IoF also addressed the event, and spoke in support of self-regulation.

"I think the more we can show that charities are being proactive, the better," said Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and research at the IoF. "We need to balance appropriately the rights of the members of the public with the right of charities to ask for money."

However, a conference delegate pointed out that there was one element of fundraising that is regulated by legislation – the local authority licensing of where and when charities may fundraise – but that this was complicated by the fact that different authorities had very different interpretations of the law.

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said in response that it might be possible for a self-regulatory scheme to replace part of the licensing regime.

Harrison said this was a "very hard nut to crack. There is a difficult balance between giving local authorities control over their own areas and giving consistency to people who fundraise in a number of areas."

Harrison told delegates that there was no chance of a new definition of public benefit. "On public benefit, we continue to support our evolutionary casework approach," he said. This meant, he said, that the definition was understood through previous legal decisions by the Charity Commission rather than being explicitly stated.

The government, said Harrison, might return in the future to consider charging charities to register with the commission. "We've ruled out charging fees for now, but we can't in the long term," he said.

Jenkin said he was concerned about the possibility of introducing fees, suggesting it would be perverse to charge money for organisations to become eligible for tax reliefs.

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