Charities must not be complacent in effort to maintain public trust, says regulator

16 Sep 2022 News

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Civil Society Media

The Charity Commission has said that charities and itself must not be complacent in their efforts to maintain recovering public trust after previous sector scandals.

Speaking at the Faith Charities Forum on Wednesday, the Commission’s charities engagement manager Colette Bennett said there is evidence that people’s trust in charities might be increasing but added that “there’s no room for complacency for charities or for the Commission”.

She also said that the Commission is looking at implementing an electronic system to facilitate the registration of thousands of excepted charities when the Excepting Regulations come to an end on 31 March 2031.

‘Stubbornly persistent scepticism’

During the session, Bennett presented the findings of recent research conducted on behalf of the Charity Commission. The research found that public trust in charities slightly rose in 2020-21 after reaching an all-time low in 2018, when a “number of scandals arose in the sector,” she said.

Bennett said: “Every single charity on the Commission’s register runs on the fuel of public support and trust in one way or another: in voluntary donations, through people’s willingness who volunteer their time and offer their expertise to charities […].

“Our research shows that the public continues to believe that charities are important parts of society, provided that they meet four consistent expectations. Trust in charity has dipped very slightly in our latest research in 2022, but remains higher than in most other parts of society, just second to doctors.” 

Bennett pointed out that there is a “stubbornly persistent scepticism regarding how charities use their money and how they behave”. 

“This was true before the pandemic and it’s still true now. The public’s expectations are shared amongst people from a wide range of backgrounds. And they’re simple to understand, it’s not always easy to live up to. They expect them to spend a high proportion of funds on the ended cause. 

“People expect charities to show that they make a positive difference, that charities are making the impact that they promised to make. They expect charities to live and breathe their values, sharing charity not just in what they do, but also in how they do it. And finally, the public expects that all charities uphold the reputation of the charity in adhering to those expectations.”

She said trustees are “key” in ensuring that charities meet the public’s expectations through ensuring high standards of governance and that they comply with their duties. 

“However, we recognise that the Commission also plays a crucial role in protecting and promoting trust and confidence and the relationship between the public, charities and the state. We’re guardians of a covenant of trust that plays such a central role in our communities and in our society. Part of how we look after and build that trust and confidence is through our protective enforcement work, taking action when things go wrong. But it’s also about our supportive and enabling role.”

Making it easier for excepted charities to register

Some charities with an annual income of £100,000 or less are excepted from registering and submitting annual returns. 

Last year, the regulator announced that it was working with the Church of England on plans to register 35,000 cathedrals and churches “over the next decade”

Asked on the proposals and whether church charities can voluntarily register, Bennett said: “The regulations which mean those charities are excepted end in 2031. We’re aware that there are a lot of them.

“There are thousands and thousands of those charities needing to register. It has to be done before 2031 which means we can’t leave it until the last minute and then try and register all those at once. If you feel you need to register now, we’ll accept a voluntary registration. We’re looking at trying to get some electronic system in place that will actually make the registration process a lot quicker and a lot more streamlined for those charities. 

“Unlike the normal charity registration application, where we’re actually assessing status, we already know most of these charities. We’re just trying to get them onto the register. So if you can hold your horses, it’s likely that there will be a much easier, shorter and more streamlined system online for those group of charities.”

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