Voluntary sector, bar Acevo, welcomes regulator's revised advice on new powers

Key changes include a doubling of the notice period the Charity Commission will give to charities when it issues warnings for misconduct and mismanagement

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

Voluntary sector groups have welcomed the Charity Commission’s revised advice on its new powers to issue warnings and disqualify trustees, though the charity leaders group Acevo has said it falls short.

The information, which was published yesterday, outlines how and when the commission plans to use the new powers granted to it under in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 after holding consultations on both subjects.

One of the key changes was doubling to 28 days the notice period the commission said it would usually give to charities when it planned to issue them with official warnings for misconduct and mismanagement.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy and public services at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told Third Sector that the new information contained "very positive changes overall".

She said: "This is a sign that the Charity Commission has listened, gone back to the drawing board, looked at its guidance again and made some quite important changes."

In addition to the 28-day notice period, she said, the tone of the information was clearly intended to be much more reassuring to trustees.

"The fact that it has presented the information as a Q and A, which many people find more accessible, shows they are thinking about who will read it and what information they need to get across," she said.

Chamberlain also welcomed the extra detail on how and when the powers would be used.

In a statement accompanying the documents, the commission said that, as well as inviting consultation responses, it had held workshops and focused discussion groups with key interested parties and stakeholders to inform its advice.

Ciaran Price, policy officer at the Directory of Social Change, said the commission should be commended on the effort it had put into communicating with the sector.

He said: "The commission's staff have done an excellent, thorough job in consulting us on this, and it has provided a great example to other regulators on how to involve stakeholders properly.

"As a result there are some really positive changes, particularly the 28-day notice period. This gives charity trustees, especially of small charities, the opportunity to make representations, which is conducive to good governance."

But Price said there were still some outstanding questions, particularly concerning how and where the commission would publish warnings.

In a statement, Acevo said the commission’s response to the consultations "falls short of a credible way ahead".

Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of Acevo, said: "With power comes responsibility, yet the Charity Commission has failed to exercise appropriate due care in connection with its new statutory powers.

"A wider range of safeguards on its new powers to issue warnings is required because these are powers that, if exercised inappropriately, could damage the reputation of charities."

Under the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, charities issued with warnings will not be able to appeal against them at the charity tribunal, and instead will have to launch judicial reviews.

Singh described this situation as "capricious and without merit" and called on the commission to seek dispensation from the government to allow tribunal appeals against warnings.

But he welcomed the 28-day notice period and the news that the commission would consider whether or not to publish warnings on a case-by-case basis, rather than having a presumption in favour of publication as the previous guidance had suggested.

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