Lords committee expresses concern over plan to charge charities, warns Charity Commission on its board appointments
- Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:01
Committee asks government to explore NCVO recommendation for time off work to volunteer as a charity trustee
00:01 Sunday 26 March
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities, said that the House of Lords has backed many of its concerns in the report of its select committee on charities, Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society, published today.
The Lords committee says it has ‘grave concerns’ about the Charity Commission proceeding with any proposal to charge charities annual fees, saying: ‘it is not yet clear that the Commission has taken full account of the potential impact of charging for regulation’. The committee says it is essential that fees from charities are not used to replace existing government funding, and that charities would ‘not unreasonably’ seek to be represented on the Commission’s board so that they could ensure the funds were spent appropriately.
NCVO said that while it remained open minded on charging and that the Charity Commission must have adequate resources to function effectively, it needs to address a number of questions prior to going ahead with its planned consultation on charging.
The committee also warned the Charity Commission over the diversity and experience of its own board, saying: ‘the regulator cannot expect to hold the sector to a higher standard than it is able to achieve itself’. The committee tells the Commission that in future it must seek to recruit board members with experience of the charity sector and with a broader range of demographic characteristics. NCVO says the Commission’s governance should be overhauled if it is to proceed with charging.
Committee backs NCVO recommendation on time off for charity trustees
The committee has backed a recommendation from NCVO that the government explores extending the statutory duty for reasonable time off work that applies to magistrates and school governors to also include those who volunteer as charity trustees. The proposal would help many charities who struggle to recruit and retain trustees due to time pressures, while also helping employees with valuable skills development.
Small and medium-sized charities in particular report problems recruiting trustees of diverse backgrounds and with the right skills and experience, for example in finance and fundraising. Allowing employees statutory time off to act as trustees would both enable employees to take up opportunities and elevate the status of trusteeship.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:
We know the Charity Commission is under financial pressure, and that it is in charities’ interests to have a well-funded regulator. But the Lords have been unambiguous in saying that they do not think the Charity Commission have properly considered their plans to levy fees on charities. The Commission must now consider the questions of principle that the committee have raised before it launches into consultation on the detail of a charging scheme.
We plan to set out a range of criteria by which a charging scheme should be judged. These will include seeking reassurances that fees from charities are not simply used to replace rather than supplement its existing funding, and that appropriate accountability measures will be put in place.
Given concerns over partisan appointments to the Charity Commission board, there is a clear case that any move to charging should go hand in hand with an overhaul of the Commission’s governance to ensure it is properly independent of the government of the day. The committee are right to highlight the current absence of significant charity experience on the Commission’s board, and I hope that this is addressed in future appointments.
Commenting on the committee’s backing for NCVO’s proposal for time off for charity trustees, Sir Stuart said:
I am very pleased that the committee have backed this recommendation. We know that many small and medium-sized charities in particular struggle to recruit trustees. Putting trusteeship on a footing with other public duties by ensuring employers had to make allowances for trustees, as they would for school governors or magistrates, would raise its profile and help broaden the range of people able to contribute by volunteering as a trustee.