New Charities Bill announced in Queen's Speech

The legislation is expected to reduce bureaucracy for charities in England and Wales

Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech (Photograph: Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech (Photograph: Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The government has announced it will introduce a new Charities Bill that will bring into force long-awaited reforms designed to reduce the amount of bureaucracy faced by charities.

Speaking in Parliament today, the Queen set out the government’s policies and proposed legislative programme for the new parliamentary session, including the bill.

The government will also introduce new legislation to expand the dormant assets scheme, which could unlock almost £900m of funds for the UK voluntary sector.

The government said the new Charities Bill would “address a range of issues in charity law which hamper charities’ day-to-day activities, by implementing the majority of the recommendations in the Law Commission’s 2017 report Technical Issues in Charity Law”, according to briefing notes published alongside the speech.

The Law Commission made 43 recommendations aimed at removing inappropriate burdens to save charities time and money.

In March the government announced it would accept all but six of the Law Commission’s proposals.

The government said today the main elements of the Charities Bill, which covers charities in England and Wales, would include changing the law to help voluntary sector organisations amend their governing documents more easily, with Charity Commission oversight where appropriate.

It will give charities more flexibility to obtain tailored advice when they sell land, and remove unnecessary administrative burdens.

The government said the legislation would also increase flexibility for how charities used their permanent endowment, remove legal barriers to charities merging, and give trustees advance assurance that litigation costs in the charity tribunal could be paid from charitable funds.

Aarti Thakor, director of legal and accountancy services at the Charity Commission, said the proposed changes would make life simpler for charity trustees and followed “extensive consultation” over the past few years.

“When enacted, they will ease some of the regulatory pressures, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and enabling charities to deliver greater impact for the people and causes they are set up to support,” she said.

“Given the additional pressures placed on trustees during the pandemic, this is especially welcome.”

Richard Hebditch, director of external affairs at the Association of Charitable Foundations, tweeted: “Finally”, with a link to the government’s written briefing notes on the bill.

He had called for the plans to be included in the Queen’s Speech back in March.

The recommendations set out by the Law Commission’s charity law project were first published in September 2017.

Hebditch said the proposed changes “will give charitable foundations greater flexibility in how they can use the full range of their resources for social good”.

Chris Walker, policy and public affairs manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “The Law Commission recommendations will help simplify the law in a number of areas, making it easier for charities to make the most of donations and reducing bureaucracy and legal complexity for trustees.

“This will free up charities to work on the major challenges they face, not least in supporting a recovery from the pandemic. We look forward to seeing this legislation being taken forward, and for these long-awaited changes to make it to the statute book.”

Nicola Evans, charities counsel at the law firm BDB Pitmans, also welcomed seeing the bill being taken forward.

“It aims to take away some unnecessary bureaucracy which costs charities time and money, which will be needed as charities grapple with the many challenges arising from the pandemic,” she said.

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