National Trust did not breach charity law with controversial slavery report, regulator concludes

The Charity Commission says it has found 'no grounds for regulatory action' after the charity published the document in September

Heelis, the National Trust's headquarters in Swindon, Wiltshire
Heelis, the National Trust's headquarters in Swindon, Wiltshire

The Charity Commission has found no reason to take regulatory action against the National Trust in the wake of a storm of publicity about a report the charity published setting out its links to slavery.

The report, published in September, showed connections between 93 of its historic places and colonialism and historic slavery.

It sparked fierce debate on social media about the charity’s work and caused the commission to open a compliance case into the trust.

The regulator said today that it had concluded the case and had found “no grounds for regulatory action”.

The commission said it had considered whether the report was in furtherance of the National Trust’s purposes, and examined trustees’ decision-making in commissioning and publishing it.

Third Sector revealed in November that the regulator had received just three complaints about the trust since it published the report.

The charity said at the time that in addition to the complaints made to the commission, the trust had received 771 complaints from a total of 5.6 million members.

The commission said today that it “welcomed the charity’s commitment to learning lessons from its recent experience, and its ongoing commitment to take into account a wide range of views and opinions within its membership and wider society”.

It found that the trust had “a well-reasoned response” to the question of how the publication of the report furthered its purposes.

“The trustees were able to demonstrate that they explicitly considered and determined that commissioning and publishing the report was compatible with its charitable purposes,” the commission said.

It also found that trustees considered the potential negative reaction to the report and had consulted a panel of 2,000 members on the matter.

This showed “considerable support for research into challenging histories”, the regulator said.

But the regulator said that the publication of the report did “generate strongly held and divided views, and in light of this, it is reasonable to conclude that the trust’s planning and approach did not fully pre-empt or manage the potential risks to the charity”.

The commission said the charity could have done more to clearly explain the link between the report and the trust’s purpose.

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the commission, has also published a blog post today setting out the need for charities to be “mindful of the impact their actions will have on people on whose support they rely”.

She says: “In the case of the National Trust, we have concluded that the charity did not breach charity law, and so there are no grounds for regulatory action.

“I understand that this conclusion will not satisfy everyone. But I hope it is reassuring to those who raised concerns about the charity’s report, who said it made them feel uncomfortable, and concerned that the charity had lost its way, that the commission has examined the trust’s actions very closely.”

A National Trust spokesperson said in a statement: "We welcome the Charity Commission's conclusion that there are no grounds for regulatory action against us.

“We are also pleased the commission is satisfied we gave due consideration to how the report, and the research behind it, would further our charitable purpose.”

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