Public divided on funding of Charity Commission, report says

A report from the Centre for Philanthropy says focus groups showed strong support for a well-resourced regulator, but no consensus on how it should be funded

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The public is divided on whether charities should help to fund the Charity Commission, according to a new report by the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy.

The report, What Regulation, Who Pays? Public Opinion and Charity Regulation, used a representative sample of regular and non-regular donors and non-donors split between four focus groups to reach its conclusions.

It found that although there was strong support for a well-resourced regulator, there was no consensus on who should pay for it.

Participants in the research broadly supported charities making a contribution of some kind, but very few thought charities should wholly fund the regulator. A significant minority thought the commission should be funded only by government.

But the report, which was produced on behalf of the Charity Finance Group, says most participants wanted contributions by charities to be in addition to, rather than instead of, existing levels of government money. Opinions in the focus groups on the amount charities should provide ranged from £5 a year to 50 per cent of charity income.

Participants said small charities should also contribute less to the regulator than larger ones, with a grade system used to decide how much each organisation pays, the report says. It says the public are concerned that small charities could be discouraged from registering with the commission if the financial burden is too great.

Some focus group participants said they felt donations could actually increase if charities partly financed the regulator, although the report warns that this should be treated with caution "given the gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do".

Some participants expressed concern that a regulatory system wholly supported by charities would lack independence, the report says.

The report concludes that the public have high expectations of charities and want regulation to deal with areas where they think they are falling short, such as fundraising ethics, efficiency, staff costs and bogus charities.

But it says people know little about the existing system of charity regulation.

Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and public affairs at the CFG, said: "Those in favour of charging charities need to make a case for why it would improve the regulator and is not merely a response to government cuts.

"The CFG believes it would be a false economy to charge charities for their regulation. The charity sector earns tens of billions of pounds through donations and fundraising. This money is spent on delivering services across the country, often underpinning the work of other public services, or delivering preventive work that saves public money. So investing in the Charity Commission is a good use of public money.

"Instead of focusing on charging charities, the regulator and ministers need to make the case to the Treasury for why investing in the Charity Commission is the right thing to do and has public support."

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