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Unlock charity raises concerns as Commission grants just six criminal conviction waivers

18 Feb 2020 News

The Charity Commission has refused more than half of the applications it has received from people with criminal convictions who wish to serve as trustees or senior managers, prompting the charity Unlock to call for a review. 

New rules came into force in August 2018 which introduced an automatic disqualification from serving at charities in England and Wales for those with a criminal conviction. A process to grant waivers to people affected began in February 2018, and since then 14 applications have been considered, according to data obtained by Civil Society News through a freedom of information request. Six waivers were granted.

The data covers the periods 1 February 2018 to 31 January 2019 and 1 February 2019 to 17 January 2020. It shows that the the number of people applying for waivers is low, with only five applying in the last year. Of these, only two waivers were granted. In 2018-2019 the Commission received nine applications, and accepted four. 

The Commission said it had not expected high numbers of applications for waivers, but Unlock, a charity for people with convictions, said it was concerned by the data and has called for a review.

The regulator does not hold data on the number of people who have been automatically disqualified from trusteeship for having criminal records.

Data also reveals that the time taken to process these applications has decreased. The median average was 116 days for 2018-2019, while from 2019-2020 the median average was 46 days. 

The Commission said case duration time could vary due to the time taken by applicants to respond to correspondence. There were no applications that were awaiting decisions as of 17 January 2020.

The data also shows that two people withdrew their waiver applications in 2018-2019, and one did in 2019-2020.

More than 5,000 charities register with the Commission every year. The typical size of a trustee board is three to five for smaller charities and six to ten for larger charities, according to a Commission report from 2017. 

Unlock calls for independent review 

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, a charity for people with convictions, said he was concerned about the low number of applications and high number of refusals, and has called on the Commission to publish an independent review on how it arrived on those decisions.

Stacey said: “It is concerning to see such low numbers of waiver applications and such a high proportion of refusals. We worked hard to help the Commission establish its waiver process so it would not undermine individual charity's governance. These figures raise questions regarding the fairness and transparency of the waiver process. 

He added: “Waiver applicants have already demonstrated the value they can add to the charities they are looking to be involved in, and that the charity has considered the criminal record and put in place appropriate safeguards. We encourage the Commission to instigate and publish an independent review of the decisions it has made and how it arrived at those decisions."

Commission says trustees must 'demonstrate accountability and their worth to the public'

The Commission said its decisions are motivated by the best interests of the charity in question, not the interests of the individual applicant. The regulator added that it acknowledges the value that people who are automatically disqualified may bring to a charity, and that trusteeship can be a helpful route to rehabilitation.  

A Commission spokeswoman said: “We have been transparent and open about the process for applying for a waiver from automatic disqualification from trusteeship or senior management of a charity. Our decisions about whether to grant a waiver are made fairly and consistently, driven by the best interests of the charity in question.

“Those subject to a decision about a waiver can appeal to the tribunal, or request a decision review. Anyone who is a trustee or senior manager has to demonstrate accountability and their worth to the public and funders.”

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