Regulator threatened with legal action over homeopathy charities

The Good Thinking Society wants the Charity Commission to remove from the register charities that promote homeopathy and is preparing a claim for a judicial review

Homeopathy: charity wants review
Homeopathy: charity wants review

A charity that "battles against irrationality and pseudoscience" has threatened to take legal action against the Charity Commission if it does not remove charities that promote homeopathy from its register.

The Good Thinking Society, which was registered in 2012 with objects of "encouraging curious minds and promoting rational enquiry", wrote to William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, in June calling for the regulator to revoke the charitable status of organisations that promote "disproven treatments", including those that discourage vaccination, encourage the use of homeopathic remedies for serious conditions and promote "energy healing".

It said the charities therefore "do not operate for the benefit of the public and therefore should have their charitable status revoked".

The regulator responded by explaining the commission’s approach to registering charities that promote complementary or alternative medicine but giving no commitment to a wholesale review of such charities, which the regulator pointed out would probably be a "time-consuming, resource-intensive exercise" that was unlikely to happen quickly.

The society was dissatisfied with the response and engaged the law firm Bindmans to take up the case.

A letter from the firm to the regulator on 17 August called on the commission to review its guidance on charities promoting homeopathy and begin a review of whether charities that promote the treatment "continue properly to be charities".

It also asked the commission to justify its approach to registering such charities and questioning the evidence it requires them to provide when applying to join the register.

A further letter from the firm called on the regulator to place a moratorium on registering applications from organisations that promote homeopathy until a review was completed.

It asks the commission to either remove homeopathy charities from the register or ask them to provide firm evidence on the efficacy of the methods they promote and make that evidence publically available.

The letter gives the commission until the close of business today or face a claim for a judicial review of its actions.

A statement from the Good Thinking Society said the response from the commission to its correspondence had been "wholly inadequate" and it was "deeply concerned to see no clear action taken to prevent charities from promoting misleading treatments, and to protect the public from these ineffective therapies, which are potentially dangerous if used in place of effective treatments".

It said correspondence with the regulator had raised serious questions as to the legality of its position.

"Given the clear potential for harm presented by some of the charities, this inaction from the Charity Commission puts the public at risk and seriously damages the confidence and trust placed in the commission and potentially to charities as a whole," the society said.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said in a statement that it was considering the issues raised by the society and would respond shortly.

"Organisations that apply to register as charities are considered on an individual basis, looking at the evidence available at the time, and against the legal test we have to apply," she said.

"Charitable purposes for advancing health include conventional methods as well as complementary, alternative or holistic methods. To be charitable there needs to be sufficient evidence that the organisation is capable of furthering its purposes."

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