The announcement of legislation designed to give the Charity Commission tougher powers to prevent the abuse of charities have been cautiously welcomed by the sector, and by the regulator itself.
But charity and voluntary sector umbrella groups have argued that the Protection of Charities Bill, which was announced today as part of the Queen’s speech, should be kept proportionate to the size of the problem and claimed that the bill’s success would also be dependent on the commission having the necessary resources.
The bill, an early version of which is expected to be available in the autumn, would "protect charities from abuse by people who present a known risk" and "make it easier for the commission to take robust action against individuals and charities in cases of abuse", the Cabinet Office said.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said that the legislation "would strengthen the commission’s powers and is crucial in ensuring we are able to become a more agile and effective regulator".
But she added: "We are disappointed that the opportunity to secure such vital legislation in this parliamentary session has been missed. We will do all we can to support the process over the next year and to press for the earliest possible slot for a bill in the next parliament."
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity leaders group Acevo, said he supported the commission "having the power it needs", but new provisions "must be proportionate, and must not threaten the independence of the voluntary sector".
Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "Of course, with all the powers in the world, the Charity Commission still needs the capacity in order to be able to regulate properly, and we know it has been squeezed hard recently."
Joe Irvin, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said: "We are generally supportive of measures that help the commission do its job. However, we have in the past warned against the Charity Commission turning into some kind of Rambo, acting tough but showing little understanding. This means we will study this bill with interest."
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said the legislation was welcome but the growing media interest in cases of charity malpractice should not overshadow the bill. "CFG would stress that instances of intentional abuse are few," she said. "The majority of the cases the regulator deals with are linked to poor awareness by charities leading to negligence."
But she said the new measures would not be sufficient in isolation.
"Charities need strong internal controls supported by guidance from the commission, and these preventive actions are not covered by this draft bill," said Bradshaw. "If charities are to be protected from abuse, the commission will need resources to complement these new powers."