The Judean People's Front is being used as an excuse

The sector must remember the things that unite it when making decisions about Gift Aid, writes Caron Bradshaw

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

There is a scene in the film Monty Python's Life of Brian in which John Cleese is asked "are you the Judean People's Front?" His full response to Graham Chapman's Brian is not to be quoted in Third Sector, but part of his offended reply is "no, we're the People's Front of Judea". What then emerges in the hilarious scene is that there are multiple similarly named or positioned groups, taking different views, with different allegiances, each more despised than the next. They all know they hate the Romans, but they can't agree on what to do about it.

If you believe some commentators, there is a similar, slightly less funny, scene that plays out every year in relation to Gift Aid. At every announcement designed to simplify it, the sector is criticised for failing to present a united front, like the Judean People's Front and the various "splitters" in the Python film. But in my view, this perceived divergence of views is used as an excuse to fail to act on improving Gift Aid.

Gift Aid on corporate giving is vital - it could be worth a significant amount of money to the sector, but with a neutral impact on the Treasury. Gift Aid overall is absolutely critical, in terms of money and ideology. There has been a lot of debate about its nuances recently: a National Audit Office report highlighted a lack of clear policy aims and understanding of the scheme. If you followed the rather awkward evidence session when HM Revenue & Customs appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, you'd have also picked up that the figures are difficult to analyse, partly because of changes introduced over the years - for example, the redirection of corporate Gift Aid to the donor.

We are all aware that the system needs simplification, but we don't always agree on what to do. For some it is about consolidation - bringing corporates, regular donors and philanthropists under one rate, with the money always going in the same direction. The majority are persuaded by simplification, which would make it easier for donors to exercise their choice to activate Gift Aid. Some believe that tinkering with rates and consolidations could have negative consequences. But we agree we need a system that can keep pace with the demands of a digital age.

The latest proposals are intended to make it easier for intermediaries to integrate Gift Aid into their offerings. It's a step in the right direction, but there are risks and costs. We are not unwilling to take on reasonable cost for overall commercial benefit - look no further than JustGiving's expansion as evidence of this. But charities must be able to manage their relationships with their donors. We cannot expect them to take on undue risk: after all, few companies would allow a third party to take control of business relationships without due diligence.

As simplification and improvement of Gift Aid stay on the agenda this year, and the inevitable cycle of opinion comes round, we should remember the things that unite us, acknowledge where we don't agree and ignore the voices that are trying to throw us off course by shouting "splitters" across the stadium.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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