Smaller charities are 'dilemma'

Mathew Little

Smaller charities frequently find themselves the cause of complaints to the Charity Commission and provide the body with its "most difficult regulatory dilemmas", according to its independent complaints reviewer, Jodi Berg.

In her annual report for 2004/5, Berg argues that problems often arise in smaller charities - yet, at the same time, there is pressure on the Charity Commission to be less demanding of them.

Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, has promised to be "tougher, harder and faster" in dealing with deliberate wrongdoing in charities. But he has also signalled a more proportionate approach to regulation, which has been widely interpreted to mean a lighter touch for smaller organisations.

Berg's report records that she received 32 complaints about the Charity Commission in the 12 months from April 2004 to March 2005. This compares with 39 referrals in the previous 15-month period.

The Charity Commission's customer service team dealt with 103 complaints - up from 94 in the previous year. Compliments dropped to 547 from 695 in 2003/4.

"Most of the complaints arose because people were unhappy with the way a decision was made, or felt that the commission did not act in accordance with its published procedures in responding to the reported situation within a charity," says Berg.

Berg's office conducted 18 reviews, incorporating 110 individual allegations of maladministration. Just 14 per cent were fully or partially upheld and 86 per cent were rejected.

Berg concludes that the Charity Commission has instilled a service culture "sensitive to the needs of customers and more alive to expressions of dissatisfaction than was the case a few years ago".

However, Berg also argues that the creation of an ombudsman to deal with personal disputes with charities where the Charity Commission has no authority to intervene is also essential.

- See Editorial, page 22

FACT FILE

- Smaller charities provide the Charity Commission with its "most difficult regulatory dilemmas"

- Jodi Berg, independent complaints reviewer, received 32 complaints in the 12 months from April 2004 to March 2005

- Andrew Hind, chief executive, has promised to get tougher in dealing with charities' wrongdoings.

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