The Charity Commission’ announcements about charities it investigates are misleading and risk unnecessarily damaging charities' reputations, a senior charity lawyer has warned.
Moira Protani, head of charities at Wilsons, has written an article for the law firm’s newsletter criticising the Charity Commission for naming charities that are the subject of statutory inquiries or compliance cases, and then publishing the outcomes of those cases.
In it, she urged charities not to file serious incident reports unless absolutely necessary.
She said: “The reports are poorly written and one can be left feeling none the wiser about the apparent misdeeds committed by hapless trustees.
“The tone of the reports is intended to convey the impression that the Commission is being an active regulator. However, the Commission’s reports are misleading in a number of material aspects and there is a risk of damage to the reputation of the trustees.”
She complains that the reports give a false impression that that the Commission can interfere in the management and administration of a charity and attacks the Commission over the way it has criticised charities for not reporting serious incidents.
“The so-called ‘serious incident’ is a concept that the Charity Commission has introduced” she said. “Contrary to the Commission’s public assertions, it is not a legal requirement that trustees should report serious incidents immediately to the Commission."
Protani advises charities “not to be in a hurry to report to the Charity Commission unless they are satisfied that it is in the charity’s best interests to do so”.
She blames last year’s criticism from the Public Accounts Committee for the Commission’s move to “direct most of its resources into regulatory activity of a kind which has little to do with its areas of expertise”.
Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications, said: “I am surprised to see a senior charity lawyer encourage charities not to report serious incidents to their regulator.
"Trustees have a duty to take reasonable steps to assess and manage risks to their charity’s activities, beneficiaries, property, work or reputation. Reporting serious incidents to us demonstrates that the trustees are complying with their duties and responsibilities, and taking appropriate and effective action to deal with the incident.”
She added that trustees find case reports “helpful” and that they are all shared with the trustees of the charity concerned before being published.
This month, after Protani’s article was published, the Commission issued a policy paper explaining when and why it reveals information to the press.
Other lawyers respond to Protani
Rosamund McCarthy, partner at BWB, told Civil Society News that: “Rather than publishing reports that focus on the problem at one charity, which could damage that charity’s reputation, the Charity Commission could be more creative in how it raises relevant issues with the wider sector.
“For example where the Commission is aware of a number of charities facing similar issues it could arrange a meeting with them to discuss it and produce some guidance that could be shared.”
Vicki Bowles, lawyer at Stone King, defended the Commission, and said: “The perceived quality of the content in its reports is likely to be linked to the need to protect the charity and trustees involved. Given the Commission’s caseload and resources, improvement of these reports is unlikely to be a high priority.”