NCVO group calls for clarity on the roles of self-regulating fundraising bodies

Recommendation comes in the submission to the review of the Charities Act 2006 of the umbrella body's charity law advisory group, chaired by by Baroness Howe

Baroness Howe
Baroness Howe

There is an "immediate need" to resolve confusion about the roles of the three bodies involved in the self-regulation of fundraising, a group of senior charity figures and lawyers has said.

NCVO’s charity law advisory group, put together to follow Lord Hodgson’s review of the Charities Act 2006, says in its submission to the review that the roles of the Institute of Fundraising, the Fundraising Standards Board and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association should be clarified.

The submission, published today, also recommends stronger sanctions for organisations that break fundraising codes of practice, but did not recommend particular penalties.

"The importance of the consumer perspective requires the regime to be structured in a way that ensures the public knows where to make a complaint if necessary," it says. "This in turn means that there is an immediate need to resolve the current confusion about the different roles and responsibilities of the three bodies involved in the self-regulatory system."

The submission says that it is necessary to clarify who sets the standards, who enforces and adjudicates those standards and what is the role of charities in ensuring the standards are followed.

But it does not set out any firm proposals for how this should take place.

The body, which is chaired by Baroness Howe of Idlicote and includes members such as Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, and Francesca Quint, a barrister at Radcliffe Chambers, also proposes exploring the possibility of a new charity ombudsman that could form part of a three-stage process for dealing with charity disputes.

It says the Charity Commission has limited powers to intervene in internal disputes, so a charity ombudsman could fill such a gap and "ensure that there is a body responsible for investigating and resolving the complaints about charities that are currently left unresolved".

The suggested three-stage system would consist of informal conciliation, then the charity ombudsman and finally a referral to the charity tribunal.

The report says English law should set out the main principles of public benefit, as Scottish law does, but not attempt a comprehensive definition.

It says that further legislation is "highly desirable to clarify the law, but this should not be an attempt to produce a comprehensive definition of the public benefit requirement in statute".

It also recommends a single definition of charity and public benefit for the UK, which could also apply for tax purposes.

Meanwhile, the law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite said in its submission that reform of the public benefit definition was not required. It said the 42-day deadline to bring appeals to the charity tribunal should be extended and reform of public collections was urgently needed.

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