The Charity Commission's online register needs a review

02 Mar 2010 Voices

The Charity Commission's implicit approval of charity accounts by virtue of posting them on its website without checking them first, is a threat to public trust in charities, says Dorothy Dalton

Over the last few years, even with limited funding, the Charity Commission has achieved much. Its website is a treasure trove of useful publications.

The Commission developed its excellent online register of charities in order to help achieve its mission to ‘promote public trust and confidence in charities’. If you want to research any charity, the first step must be a visit to the online register. Members of the public, not surprisingly, believe the information provided on the regulator’s website must be accurate.

Little do visitors to the online register know that because of its inadequate funding, the Commission cannot financially afford to check the information given on the online register. Instead the information is just scanned in by staff from documents provided by charities.

Sadly, this means there is no guarantee that even the activities of a charity as stated on the online register, fall entirely within the charity’s charitable objects.

A random check of annual accounts reveals a charity with an income of a third of a million pounds, which clearly has no understanding of the difference between restricted and designated funds. Evidently their trustees, executive and auditor have little expertise on regulatory requirements regarding charity finance.

Look further, and surprisingly (who together with an ‘independent’ are the only trustees) there is a statement which says: “The trustees have made payments for the relief of poverty to pay the school fees of the three grandchildren of Mr and Mrs Springer. The foregoing has been approved by the independent trustee.”

By virtue of submitting the accounts, private benefit is being reported to the regulator. If the regulator does nothing then the trustees believe that their actions are acceptable and the public are led to believe the Commission has given its approval for such a transaction. Does this increase the public’s trust in charities?

Inadvertently, that which is designed to increase public trust and confidence in charities can do the very opposite. Can the Commission afford not to read and address glaring errors before information is added to the online register?

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