Regulator's inquiry into Oxfam accounted for 1.3 per cent of its annual budget

The figure is revealed in correspondence between Charity Commission chair Baroness Stowell and the DCMS select committee

(Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
(Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The Charity Commission's statutory inquiry into Oxfam cost £370,000 in staff time, correspondence reveals. 

The regulator launched an inquiry into safeguarding at Oxfam in February 2018, after allegations of sexual misconduct by the charity's staff during the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake were published in The Times newspaper. The inquiry concluded in June 2019. 

The cost of the inquiry emerged In a written question-and-answer statement from commission chair Baroness Tina Stowell to the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee as part of its inquiry into the work of the regulator.

The correspondence between Stowell and Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull, who chairs the committee, was published this week after a planned oral session that was scheduled to take place in March was cancelled as a result of coronavirus restrictions. 

The £370,000 in staff time is equivalent to 1.3 per cent of the commission’s annual budget.

By comparison, in 2017/18, the last financial year for which figures are available, the commission opened or concluded a total of 258 statutory inquiries and opened or concluded 5,139 regulatory compliance cases. These figures do not include cases that were open throughout the year. 

In the correspondence, the DCMS select committee asked the commission what proportion of its resources was spent on major inquiries and if it ensured high-profile investigations did not divert resources from day-to-day operations. 

In her response, Stowell said the commission did not differentiate between high-profile investigations, such as those of Oxfam and Save the Children, and its other regulatory operations.

But she said: “It is simply that some inquiries will take more time and resources than others because of the complexity of the cases and the level of legal challenge that the charity and interested parties involved bring to bear.”

She added: “Fundamentally, when it comes to being held to account by the commission, charities should expect equal treatment regardless of their size.

“Failings in large, household-name charities can reverberate across the entire sector and it would be wrong to forgo inquiries because of this.”

Elsewhere in the response, Stowell acknowledged that the commission did “not currently have the resources necessary to fulfil all of our ambitions”.

In 2015, the commission’s budget was frozen at £20.3m a year until 2020, but in April 2018 it was allocated an additional £5m for the year, which Stowell said enabled it to recruit 85 new staff. 

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