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Governance round-up: July 2022

Annual return consultation

The Charity Commission are consulting on a new approach to the Annual Return (AR). The consultation proposes updating and introducing additional questions. The changes would see the number of core questions, which all eligible charities need to complete, raise from 16 to 32. This would impact on all Charities with an income over £10,000 and all Charitable Incorporated Organisations, regardless of income.

At NCVO, we recognise the value of transparency in driving trust in our sector. We are also supportive of the Charity Commission using data to design its support and regulatory approach. However, we recognise the importance of balance and know that with every additional question comes work to gather data and check for accuracy. This consultation comes at a time when the sector faces significant challenges and demands on capacity. Indeed, the Charity Commission notes in its own consultation document that charities emphasised that gathering the information is the part of the process which takes most time.

Our initial review of the consultation has raised a series of questions which we want to explore further before forming NCVO’s response. These include:

  • How will the overall increase in core questions impact on completing the annual return?
  • How simple is it to find the additional data, and how reliable would that information be?
  • Is there duplication between the proposed new questions and the trustee annual report?
  • Are the questions clear and easy to understand, and is there any risk of confusion?
  • Are there questions where the data could be misunderstood or interpreted?

Some more specific areas we are keen to explore:

  • Is the language and approach on income thresholds suitable?
  • Does the term ‘heavy reliance’ ignore important contextual information and how could this impact on funders decisions?
  • Are the questions on overseas income and spending clear and what scenarios might make these challenging to report on? eg Crisis response
  • How can valuable information on where and how services are delivered be collected in a realistic way and what complexity or sensitivities need to be considered?
  • Is detailed information on website host realistic?
  • Do membership and federated charities feel the definition of membership is clear and are there any concerns about these questions?
  • Are there risks to presenting staff headcount and total payroll costs without more detailed explanation of the ratios and rationale?

We will be submitting a response to the consultation on behalf of the sector and are keen to hear how the changes will impact your charity. Please complete our Annual Return survey which reflects the questions above or email policy@ncvo.org.uk with your feedback.

We also encourage charities to review the consultation and submit a response to the Charity Commission before 1 September.

In the news

Investigation into The Captain Tom Foundation: The Charity Commission has opened an investigation into The Captain Tom Foundation. The Charity Commission opened a case in March 2021 exploring the foundation’s governance, leadership and spending. This has now been escalated following what it describes as “newly identified concerns”. The investigation will examine the charity’s independence from the family of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and businesses connected to them. It will seek to establish if the trustees adequately managed conflicts of interest in relation to the ownership of the trademarking of the “Captain Tom” brand. The investigation is ongoing. It is important that trustees always ensure they identify, declare and manage conflicts of interest in line with commission guidance.

Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund donations: The BBC reported that the Charity Commission was examining whether it needs to carry out a review of donations received by a charity of the Prince of Wales. It follows news reported by the Sunday Times that millions of euros in cash were handed over to the Prince by a former prime minister of Qatar in 2015. This money was said to have been given to the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund (PWCF) who in turn said they undertook appropriate due diligence checks. As of the date of this blog’s publication, the Charity Commission has said there will be no investigation into these donations. The story serves as a reminder of the importance of such checks and that charity trustees are involved in setting a charity’s overall approach to fundraising. The Chartered Institute of Fundraising have developed an excellent guide on accepting and refusing donations and the Charity Commission’s guidance on due diligence is available here.

We are running two webinars with our expert legal partners, Withers LLP, as they cover the essential steps you need to follow to create and register a new charity and the four common legal charity structures and how to choose the best one for your organisation.

Banking services unavailable or not suitable

Banking is a fundamental requirement for the voluntary sector, yet a growing number of charities are struggling to find banking services that meet their needs. Over 1200 voluntary organisations responded to a survey commissioned by the Civil Society Group between March and May 2022. The results prepared jointly between NCVO, NAVCA, ACRE, WCVA and CFG have produced a wealth of detailed information about the issues charities are facing.

Briefing No.1 has been published on NAVCA’s site and explores four key messages that connect all respondents’ experiences:

  1. Services that charities need are increasingly unavailable
  2. Services that are available are not suited to the way that charities operate
  3. Charities often encounter poor customer service
  4. Online banking is not designed for or accessible to charities

Trustee diversity resources

Reach Volunteering has published some new resources as part of their Trustee Recruitment Cycle resource pack. These include:

New and updated governance courses: fundraising, safeguarding and supporting good governance

I’m pleased to say that in response to calls from our members, we will be introducing two new courses:

Fundraising responsibilities for trustees: The totally new half day course explore helps trustees to understand their charity’s approach to funding and fundraising. It is designed to help boards ensure their charity has the resources to thrive sustainably. It also offers important insight into the effective governance of fundraising to ensure it remains ethical and in line with both values and legal obligations.

Safeguarding essentials for trustees: Charity trustees must take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with their charity. This introductory training session explains the key responsibilities of trustees for safeguarding in line with guidance from the Charity Commission. It also brings to life good practice in embedding safeguarding within governance, including seeking assurance and the role of Lead Trustees for safeguarding.

We have also totally revised our Supporting Good Governance Course which is intended for those staff and volunteers who help to implement structures and processes that support trustees in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities. It helps people within this role identify how processes can be improved to align with the organisation’s purpose and objectives. For the first time we are taking a programmatic approach running the course over four half days.

Training and events

Dan Francis is NCVO’s lead governance consultant. For more regular updates follow @mynameisdanfran or @NCVO on Twitter.

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