The late filing of charity accounts should be seen as the voluntary sector’s equivalent of drink-driving, according to Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission.
Speaking last night at a meeting of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, Younger said: "I would like to see late filing of documents among charities becoming the sector equivalent of drink-driving: something society may have regarded as excusable in the past, but which is in fact potentially hugely damaging.
"I’m not, of course, suggesting failing to file on time is as dangerous as drink-driving, but I do think there’s a role for sector bodies and umbrella groups to work towards a similar sort of culture change."
He said charities had a duty to be accountable to the public about how their money was spent. "Think of your relationship with the public as a contract in good faith, not as a relationship of unconditional love," he said.
Younger told the meeting charities would have to become more self-reliant when the commission’s new structure was put in place. He said the commission would be providing less one-to-one advice to charities in cases where this advice served only to reassure charities that they had correctly applied its guidance.
Instead, he said, trustees would be expected to use the commission’s guidance to decide what was best for their charities.
The commission is carrying out a strategic review of its activities, structure and staffing in response to a cut in its annual budget of more than a quarter from £29.3m in 2010/11 to £21.3m in 2014/15. Younger said: "I’m acutely aware that we are entering the most challenging phase yet for staff members, who are now being consulted on what the changes might mean for their roles and their futures.
"As the board and I have said from the beginning, we hope to be able to achieve the reduction in staffing through voluntary means if at all possible. I know that no amount of consultation makes the uncertainty our staff are facing any easier and that this is a tough time for many."