THINKPIECE: What to do if it's your turn for a charity review

GILLIAN FLETCHER, a solicitor at Berwin Leighton Paisner

Charity Commission review visits are an increasingly important part of its work, and charities selected for a visit will have a number of questions. Why us? What is involved? What will we gain?

The Commission is targeting the 9,000 or so charities with an income between £250,000 and £10 million. Selection for a visit may be random, or made from charities of a particular type. A visit may be a useful way of gaining on-the-ground information to assist in policy guidance. Issues may also have been identified from the charity's accounts.

Before the visit the Commission will supply objectives for the visit.

The visiting team will examine the charity's records and meet with the trustees and its senior staff to discuss the charity's activities, governance issues and internal controls. It can take hours or days, depending on the size of the charity.

At the end of the visit, the Commission will explain any areas of concern and agree on any future action. A post-visit report will be sent which will include examples of best practice carried out by the charity and give advice on any legal requirements. It is likely that the recommendations made in the report will be followed up through future monitoring.

The charity may benefit from having its activities reviewed and the post-visit report will serve as an aide-memoire. However, even if the visiting team considers that the way in which the charity is operated is a glowing example of best practice, a positive report should not be seen as a seal of approval or an accreditation of the charity or of its trustees.

Make sure your trustees are familiar with the Commission leaflet "Hallmarks of a Well-Run Charity". Whether or not you agree that these hallmarks give any indication as to whether or not a charity is well run, they are the indicators that the Charity Commission will apply. Consider how your charity measures up. If there are areas where you anticipate difficulties, consider why your practices might differ from the hallmarks set out in that leaflet.

The charity should consider carefully the agenda and objectives for the visit and ensure the Commission meets with the right people from the charity.

When the post-visit report is received in draft, correct any inaccuracies. It is important that the report gives a fair view of the charity and of the contributions made by staff and trustees.

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