At Work: Law and Governance - Regulation with Rosie

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on helping immigrants and refugees.

There's no doubt that recent media coverage has made life even trickier for charities helping immigrants and asylum seekers. A worried trustee of one of these charities asked me recently to what extent it could offer help to people who had entered the country illegally or without the right documents to remain.

It's clear, or should be, to everyone working in this field, that you can't break domestic law. You can't, for example, advise people to invent stories you know are false, help them do so or give them paid employment if it's against the law.

But as long as a charity's activity isn't illegal, and is consistent with its objects, there's a lot you can do. Giving money, food or housing to relieve financial hardship, for example, is acceptable for a charity with objects to relieve poverty.

Immigrants and refugees often also need advice and legal assistance.

Although giving advice is not itself a charitable purpose, it's fine to provide it as long as it's a means of carrying out your objects.

It could, for example, be a way of relieving financial hardship, or promoting human rights or equality and diversity, depending on the circumstances.

A case that tests the law could be a way of promoting the sound administration of the law if the person helped wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the legal costs.

Assistance could take the form of political activity to secure a change in the law on immigrants. As always, a charity can undertake political or campaigning activities as long as it is confident this furthers its objects in a way that justifies the resources used.

The beneficiaries of these charities are among the most vulnerable of all beneficiaries. I hope my worried trustee is clearer now about how she can help them, and confident of her right to do so.

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

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