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Time to toughen up its act? The Charity Commission set to be granted additional powers

The Queen’s speech discussed a range of ‘bold’ new bills to be introduced in 2014, from sacking badly behaved MPs to compulsory charges for plastic bags (great for the environment, costly for the badly organised). But it’s not only wayward government officials and carrier bags that Parliament is looking to target. One of the new proposals (the Protection of Charities Bill) looks to arm the Charity Commission with greater powers to prevent charities from abuse.

The proposed new powers include:

  • An extension to the current list of criminal offences which automatically bar a person from acting as a charity trustee;
  • A discretionary power for the Charity Commission to disqualify a person who is “unfit” from acting as a charity trustee;
  • A new power to enable the Charity Commission to close a charity; and
  • A new statutory warning power.

The Charity Commission has itself admitted to being “too reticent” in using its regulatory powers in the past and its effectiveness has come under some criticism lately. It is not therefore entirely surprising that it is to be granted with greater ammunition with which to tackle incidents of charity abuse.

Whilst the Bill has therefore been welcomed by many, there has been some concern. A number of individuals have questioned how the Charity Commission will have the ability to enforce these additional rights without the provision of further resources to accompany them, and fear that the Commission faces becoming a body that is all bark and no bite. Others worry that there is not enough emphasis on training charities how to be aware of and deal with charity malpractice (to quote another well know adage, prevention is better than the cure).

Joe Irvin, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, is reported to have said: "We are generally supportive of measures that help the commission do its job. However, we have in the past warned against the Charity Commission turning into some kind of Rambo, acting tough but showing little understanding. This means we will study this bill with interest."

The powers to be granted are still under debate. How the Charity Commission’s role will change and its ability to adapt to this change is yet to be determined. What is becoming apparent however is that government is beginning to show more support for charities, helping to strengthen the Charity Commission and to rebuild the public’s trust in charities.

 

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.