The Charity Commission will be quicker to use its regulatory powers and less likely to allow charities the benefit of the doubt, according to Paula Sussex, its chief executive.
Sussex also told a conference of sector finance professionals in London this morning that Lord Hodgson, who reviewed the Charities Act 2006, would facilitate a round-table meeting next month with the umbrella body the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on the oft-mooted prospect of the Charity Commission charging charities fees for regulation.
Sussex said that some proactive regulation had already been in place before she arrived at the commission in the summer, but more work was needed.
"Before I joined the commission, I fondly imagined that it was risk-based and intelligence-led, but until a year ago it had been exclusively reactive," said Sussex. "The commission has already informally been putting in place a risk-based strategy, but it's not sufficiently systematic.
"The benefit of the doubt is something we can't give charities and is something the public is starting to say it can't give," she said, referring to the results of an Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by the regulator and released in the summer, which showed strong public appetite for transparency in the sector.
In addition to being more proactive, the commission will also be tougher in its approach to individual charities, she told the conference, the Charity Finance Summit organised by Charity Finance magazine. "Previously we might have written a polite and gentle letter, which we would have followed up with a 'would it be all right if'," Sussex said. She said the regulator would now be quicker to use its powers.
Sussex said that momentum for this tougher approach had been building before her arrival, with the commission opening four times as many statutory inquiries in 2013/14 as it had in the previous year, as well as increasing the number of operational compliance cases.
Sussex said the sector should continue to strive for greater transparency, again pointing to the Ipsos Mori report. "We have got more to do; we have got to be more accountable," she said. She urged the audience to increase the amount of information in their annual documents submitted to the commission in the interests of transparency.
Pointing at the commission's budget cuts in recent years – it now has slightly more than 300 staff, half the number it had 10 years ago – she said she needed the sector's help in regulating charities. "I'm so reliant on you feeding back on the effectiveness of our guidance, on what works and what doesn't work," she said.
Sussex also repeated the commission's plea for better reporting of serious incidents, saying she was aware that the 1,280 serious incident reports they received last year were "probably just the tip of the iceberg".
She also revealed that she had slept rough on Friday night to raise money for the charity Action for Children.