Regulator to review advancement of health as a charitable purpose

The move comes after the Good Thinking Society threatened to ask for a judicial review if the Charity Commission did not take charities promoting homeopathy off its register

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission is to carry out a review of the law around the advancement of health as a charitable purpose after it was threatened with legal action over the matter.

The move could result in the regulator considering whether individual charities that promote controversial health techniques such as homeopathy should retain their charitable status.

A charity called the Good Thinking Society threatened to apply for a judicial review if the regulator did not remove charities that promote homeopathy from the register of charities.

The society, which says it "battles against irrationality and pseudoscience", engaged the law firm Bindmans to write to the commission, calling for it to revoke the charitable status of organisations that promote what it called "disproven treatments", including those that discourage vaccination or encourage the use of homeopathic remedies, arguing that these charities did not operate for the public benefit.

The letter, which is the latest stage in a long-running campaign by the charity, called on the commission to place a moratorium on registering charities whose charitable purpose is the advancement of health and which promote homeopathy until a review is completed.

It gave the commission until Friday to respond to its letter or face a claim for a judicial review of its actions.

A response from the commission, written on Friday, says that it intends to "review the status of the law regarding the advancement of health or the saving of lives for the public benefit as a description of charitable purpose".

After this exercise, its says, it will review and consider whether and to what extent it might amend its guidance on the area.

The regulator says it expects the review, which will be a "substantial exercise" and will require the commission to divert resources from other work, to be complete by 1 July next year.

"If it appears to us during the course of this review that any form of consultation is necessary, we will undertake such consultation at the relevant time," the response says.

A spokeswoman for the commission said today that it recognised it was "not the authority in the efficacy of non-traditional medical treatments", which were issues of substantial debate with a variety of opinions.

"They require careful consideration and we will carry out our review constructively, consulting with the relevant people where appropriate, to determine whether to change our guidance on this topic," she said.

"If we do conclude that the law in this area has changed, or that our guidance should be revised, we would then need to consider whether the registrations of any individual organisations might be affected, on a case-by-case basis looking at each organisation's purposes."

Michael Marshall, project director at the Good Thinking Society, said the commission’s response should avoid the need for further legal action.

"We have very serious concerns regarding a number of charitable organisations that are promoting treatments based on no good evidence at all, and in some cases comprehensively disproven," he said.

"After the review has concluded in July and the commission takes the necessary action based on the findings, we hope the public will once again be able to trust that, when they give their money to a registered charity, they are funding an organisation that will make a positive contribution to society and – in the case of health charities – offer a genuine benefit to the public’s health and wellbeing."

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