Two options recommended for fundraising regulation in Northern Ireland

The working group set up by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action says either the Fundraising Regulator should be responsible, or a new standalone regulator should be set up

The working group tasked with making recommendations on how fundraising should be regulated in Northern Ireland has narrowed the options down to two.

The NI Fundraising Regulation Working Group, set up by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, has produced an options paper that puts forward two main alternatives: charities in Northern Ireland joining the Fundraising Regulator or a the establishment of a new standalone regulator.

The paper says three other options – joining the Scottish fundraising complaints system, asking the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to take on the responsibility for regulating fundraising or another existing Northern Ireland organisation taking on the role – have been deemed unviable.

The options paper says the advantages of signing up to the Fundraising Regulator are that the organisation is already up and running and would be a relatively low-cost option that is already used by UK-wide charities operating in Northern Ireland.

It is also not dependent on any particular level of funding from charities in Northern Ireland being agreed and would represent a quick and easy way to comply with the main recommendations in Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of fundraising regulation, carried out in 2015, the paper says.

It says this approach would not be specific to Northern Ireland and the regulator could lack knowledge of how the local voluntary sector operates, but the regulator is aware of NI-specific legislation and has already agreed to NI representation on its board.

The other option is to create a standalone Northern Ireland Fundraising Complaints Service, which would operate in a similar way to the Fundraising Regulator.

The paper says this option would give the NI sector ownership of the organisation and members would have more of an understanding of the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland than the Fundraising Regulator.

But the paper points out a number of hurdles that would need to be overcome, particularly how it would be financed.

It says the set-up and annual running costs of the service could only be estimated at this stage at about £20,000, not including the resources required for a scoping exercise to establish how much organisations would be willing to pay and the establishment of an independent panel and board.

It also points out that UK-wide or all-Ireland charities would probably not be required to pay towards the regulator because they would be covered by other regulation, leaving NI-only charities to pay the costs.

Estimates about what organisations in Northern Ireland might be asked to pay under this model vary in the paper between 400 charities paying £50 each to 60 organisations contributing £333 each. But further work would be required to establish which charities would be asked to pay because, unlike the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the CCNI does not have figures on how much charities spend on fundraising.

This option would also create three forms of fundraising regulation in Northern Ireland, with NI-only charities being regulated by its complaints service, UK-wide charities being overseen by the Fundraising Regulator and all-Ireland charities subject to regulation by the Republic of Ireland’s Charities Regulatory Authority.

The group has launched a short online consultation on the options, which will accept views until 4pm on 31 March.

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