Updated guidance on responsible investment sees mixed reviews

Consultation found 8 in 10 charity respondents were confident responsible investment is valid, but some raised concerns around lower returns

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

Charities and investment advisers held mixed views on the Charity Commission’s draft responsible investment guidance update, according to a summary of consultation responses

The regulator ran a six week public consultation in April and May this year. 

It was designed to address feedback, obtained in an earlier listening exercise, that the commission’s investment guidance did not sufficiently assure trustees that they can decide to take a responsible investment approach.

The consultation asked for views on the clarity of a draft guidance update that sets out the legal framework for financial investment, including responsible investment.

It received 211 responses, 173 of which were from charities ranging in size from large to small. 

The commission also received 21 responses from investment and legal advisers, and 17 additional responses described as “other”. 

In addition the regulator engaged with a number of other bodies including the Association of Charitable Foundations, the Small Charities Coalition, and the Scottish Charity Regulator.

The consultation found that charity respondents across all income groups gave high survey ratings for the clarity of the draft guidance update. Almost half (42 per cent) left positive feedback welcoming the update in their written comments. 

Additionally, 84 per cent of charity respondents said they were confident that adopting a responsible investment approach is a valid option.

However, investment and legal respondents expressed concern about the clarity of the draft guidance update and its potential to generate trustee confidence, and 95 per cent of adviser respondents’ written comments expressed concerns about use of the term responsible investment.

Respondents who identified problems with the term were mainly concerned that the commission’s proposed use was too narrow because it only references taking the charity’s purposes into account when making investment decisions. 

Both charities (17 per cent) and advisers (57 per cent) raised concerns about a perceived implication in the draft guidance update that a responsible investment approach will generate lower returns.

The consultation also received comments on expectations of the regulator, the duty to invest, and the complexity of managing investments. 

The commission said: “We are very grateful for the valuable and constructive insights we have had from charities, advisers and other stakeholders on this important and complex topic”.

Richard Sagar, policy manager at the Charity Finance Group described the guidance as an “improvement”, but added the regulator could do more to encourage trustees to actively consider sustainable investments. 

He said: “While the new guidance is an improvement on previous iterations and is on the whole clearer, it could go further still. 

“It appears from the Commission's summary of responses that it retains the view that charities should provide justification for a responsible investment approach. 

Sagar added: “In the context of the government's ambition to transition to net zero by 2030, CFG urges the commission to change this position and instead actively encourage trustees to consider a sustainable investment approach.”

The commission is unable to publish its final guidance document before the decision of a High Court judgement, after two charities were granted permission in April to bring a case that seeks a clarification of the law in relation to responsible investment. 

The court hearing is scheduled for next year. 

The full survey results can be found here.

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