William Shawcross says Charity Commission will shorten some of its guidance next year

The commission's chair also tells MPs and peers on the joint committee on the draft Protection of Charities Bill that the regulator's culture was being changed radically

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

The Charity Commission will shorten some of its guidance and make it more user-friendly next year, according to William Shawcross, the regulator’s chair.

Shawcross and Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the commission, were giving evidence yesterday to the joint committee on the draft Protection of Charities Bill. The committee is scrutinising draft legislation that will give the commission greater powers to tackle abuse in charities.

Committee member Emma Lewell-Buck, the Labour MP for South Shields, said it was important that the commission also improved its work of supporting charities and their trustees to improve governance in the sector.

But she said that her personal experience was that a lot of the commission's guidance was too complex for many trustees and volunteers.

Russell agreed, saying: "We do recognise that some of our guidance is huge and quite complex and technical."

Shawcross said: "Some of our guidance is too long, we're going to shorten it – that is one of our tasks for the next year." He also said that the commission's guidance should be "user-friendly in every way".

Russell also acknowledged that the commission had received some complaints about its website after it was transferred from an independent page to the central government's gov.uk portal in September. Shawcross said it had not wanted to make the move.

The commission supports the powers suggested in the bill; Shawcross said that the new powers proposed in the draft bill "will lift a number of constraints from us". He also said the commission’s culture was being changed "very radically" – something that other witnesses to the committee have stressed would be needed alongside the new powers.

Lord Hope of Craighead, the crossbench peer who chairs the committee, said there was a suggestion that the legislation could be introduced to parliament after May's general election and passed before parliament's summer recess. Shawcross said: "It would be marvellous if it could become law next year."

Shawcross also said that the commission still hoped that further powers included in the original consultation on the new measures, but not carried forward into the draft bill, could be added to the legislation. He said the commission hopes to have the power to prevent a disqualified trustee from acting in another position of power in a charity, to give trustees a direction to prevent acts of misconduct or mismanagement and to direct specific action without having opened a statutory inquiry. "I know that these powers are not in the bill, but if the committee did see fit to add these, we would be most grateful," he said.

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