At Work: Law and Governance - Regulation with Rosie

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on how complaints are assessed.

Despite what some of our complain-ants may wish, the commission doesn't look into complaints about charities because a charity shop volunteer was rude to them or because a trustee "looked like a streetwalker" (both real complaints).

Complaints are pursued only when we've completed an assessment and found serious concerns, or when we must take action immediately to protect the charity. Our goal is to get the charity back up and running properly, not to hound trustees or remove charities from the register.

Assessments can take time, and we need to be sure of our facts. Even if a cause for concern is found, there are many ways we can help resolve it if the trustees made genuine mistakes. Most assessments don't result in action on our part, and still fewer become investigations. We also know how uncertainty can affect a charity.

If we ask for information or a meeting, it helps both sides if trustees co-operate, even if it feels like an evaluation has come out of the blue.

For example, an organisation might be completely unaware that it is being systematically defrauded by one of its staff, so we need to ensure that the trustees put measures in place to guarantee this can't happen again.

When we look into complaints of wrongdoing, we provide the charity with a list of things it can expect from us. This includes assessing complaints objectively, letting charities know the type of problems identified and giving them the opportunity to respond. It's important to keep the channels of communication open throughout.

So if we tell you we're opening an assessment into your charity, it really does make sense for us to work together to get the organisation back on track. I hope we both want the same thing.

Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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