The Charity Commission did not meet all of the aims in its performance standards last year, for things like answering the phone on time, but in most cases nearly reached the standard.
Last year, the Commission set out nine performance standards for the first time, and has reported on how it did as part of its annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 March 2021, published last week.
The regulator emphasised that these are not targets but instead are set to stretch service standards, and said it met the expected performance and pointed to generally high customer satisfaction levels.
These standards included answering the phone within two minutes, responding to written enquiries within two days, and publishing more details about its work.
The Commission did not meet the standard to answer all phone calls within 120 seconds. It received 60,000 calls and answered 95% of them. 80% of calls were answered in 120 seconds.
It also did not acknowledge all written enquiries within two working days, acknowledging 88% of all written enquiries within two working days.
In almost all cases, 99%, the Commission responded to applications for registration and permission and requests for advice within 10 working days.
A related standard was to decide registration, permission and advice requests within 30 working days. It decided 86% of all requests within 30 working days.
It also aimed to ensure that all charities on its register would have an up to date annual return. The report shows 90% of charities have ensured an up to date annual return.
The Commission pledged to promote compliance with charitable law. The accounts show it used its powers on 2,209 occasions to promote compliance with charitable law, up from 1,962.
The Commission set out to publish key findings from customer surveys to test satisfaction with its key operational and digital services. This was published alongside the the annual report and says two-thirds of surveyed customers say the service is good or very good.
Finally, the Commission aimed to investigate and provide a response to complaints about the Charity Commission within 30 working days and to respond to Freedom for Information requests (FOIs) and letters from MP's within 20 days. The accounts show 93% of FOIs and 91% of MP letters were responded to within the statutory timeframes.
It resolved a total of 109 complaints about its services or decisions from 2020-21, with 72% of complaints being responded to within 30 working days.
'We have met that expected performance'
The Commission said it was satisfied with its performance over the last year and that its customer satisfaction levels were positive.
A spokeswoman said: “As Helen Stephenson’s blog makes clear – providing an excellent service to all our customers was a key priority for last year, and remains a priority in our 2021-22 business plan. When we published these operational standards for the first time in 2020, we also set out our expectations for our performance against them during the first year in which they were operational (2020-21).
“We have met that expected performance, and indeed achieved high customer satisfaction levels – 69% surveyed said the service they received from us was good or very good. We will report our performance again in next year’s annual report.”
During the year it recorded a total of 18 breaches of confidentiality, up by one from the previous reporting year.
Two of these breaches were reported to the ICO, one in July 2020 and one in January 2021. In both instances, emails were sent to an incorrect recipient by using an incorrect email address.
In a blog summarising the Commission's priorities for next year, Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Commission, said: “Our business plan identifies the priorities that will help us deliver during the third year of our ambitious five-year strategy. It has a sharp focus - we have worked hard to whittle down the many areas in which we can make progress, to arrive at the four core priorities that we must deliver on, in order to further our strategy and fulfil our purpose.”
These priorities are: to help the sector recover from the pandemic through simpler processes, improve its use of data, prioritise regulation, and supporting its own workforce.
Number of regulatory action cases concluded
The accounts show that the regulator concluded 4,712 regulatory action cases in ten months over 2020-2021.
A new case management system means that it does not have a full year of data available for this report. In 2019-20 it concluded 6,246 cases.
A Commission spokesperson said: “The 2020 to 2021 data covers 10 months, whereas the 2019 to 2020 data (in our previous annual report) was for 12 months. We changed our case management system earlier this year and, as a consequence, it has not been possible to verify the data for February and March 2021 in time for our annual report.
“In the interests of transparency, we have published the 10 months of data we do have available now and we will include February and March 2021 to our annual report next year.”
Of these, 64 were statutory inquiries, the most serious type of regulatory engagement. This compares to 181 statutory inquiries concluded in 2019-2020, “following a concerted effort to close a number of long-running inquiries”.
Its accounts show it assessed 4,308 new serious reports submitted by charities and received 425 reports of serious incidents related specifically to the pandemic.
It opened 59 new inquiries in 2020, compared to 67 in 2019.
Over 8,000 applications to become a charity
The regulator received 8,354 applications to register a charity, which is in line with the year prior. The approval rate for applications for charity registration in 2020-21 remained in line with the previous year, at 60%.
Of the 8,354 registration applications received, 138 were directly related to the pandemic response, 77 of which were subsequently registered.
It has reduced the average time to register all charities to 45 working days from 65 working days in 2019-20.
The accounts also show that whistleblowing reports to the Commission rose to 379 for 2020-21, which is up from 247 from 2019-20.