Upholding trust in charities an 'unrealistic ambition' for the Charity Commission

Ann Phillips, chair of the law firm Stone King, tells a Westminster Social Policy seminar that the regulator should focus on compliance and legal matters, not managing public expectation

Ann Phillips
Ann Phillips

The Charity Commission's core objective of upholding public trust and confidence in charities is an unrealistic ambition that no regulator could actually achieve, a leading charity lawyer has said.

Ann Phillips, who recently became chair of the charity law firm Stone King and is a former chair of the Charity Law Association, was speaking at a Westminster Social Policy Forum seminar in London yesterday.

She asked the attendees: "The expectations of the commission are high, but are they achievable?"

Phillips said that the commission's core objective of ensuring that the public can support charities with confidence "is surely not a matter that the Charity Commission can ever actually control", because public opinion was controlled by external events rather than what the commission did.

Phillips said that after a difficult period of criticism and scrutiny for the commission, its central activity should instead be compliance and legal matters, and that the broader focus might be a distraction.

She said the commission "has been good at accepting constructive criticism" and if the regulator wanted to be effective "what we need is everyone working together".

Sam Younger, the outgoing chief executive of the commission, agreed with Phillips when speaking later in the day. "The Charity Commission can't do it on its own," he said.

Younger said the work of sector umbrella bodies was vital "to make sure that they are supporting us in our compliance role and also serving their members". The commission has formal partnerships with 50 organisations, including umbrellas and individual charities.

Younger said: "We do need to get better at ensuring we have clearer guidance, and that it is easily navigable."

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