January may mark the onset of the official new year, but for most of us there’s not a lot of ‘newness’ about that time of year at all: it’s still winter, we’re still in the same routines, for many it’s still just midway through the school year.
September on the other hand, that’s when the new year actually feels like it’s ready to start: it’s the beginning of autumn, when the leaves begin to change, the beginning of school terms…
And most importantly, it’s party conference season! It’s time to announce all the policies that have been developed over the summer, launch consultations and introduce bills in Parliament.
Law Commission report on ‘technical issues in charity law’
Despite being received with little fuss (possibly because of the combination of ‘technical’ and ‘law’ in the title), this report by the Law Commission sets out some important recommendations on how to improve charity law to make it work more effectively.
In fact, despite focusing on technical aspects of charity law, the report recommends changes that would considerably simplify and reduce existing regulatory requirements, meaning that they are more appropriate and enable charities to do their job better.
Key changes proposed include:
- Aligning the regime to amend charitable purposes so it is the same whether you are a charitable company or CIO, or an unincorporated charity (trust or unincorporated association)
- Simplifying the rules for charity land disposals
- Simplifying the process for charities established by Royal Charter or Statute to amend their governing provisions
- Fixing the loophole in the legislation creating the Register of Mergers is ‘fixed’ so it should no longer be necessary for shell charities to be retained following a merger, if there is a risk of losing legacy income that could arise in future
- Simplifying the regime for failed charitable appeals to make it less onerous for charities to deal with sums raised for a purpose that cannot be achieved because of a shortfall of funds
There are also a number of proposed minor increases to the Charity Commission’s powers, such as:
- Giving the commission the additional power to direct charities in relation to their names, including the power to decline to register a change of name for a particular period
- Allowing the commission to refer a matter to the Charity Tribunal without the Attorney General’s consent
This is just a small selection of the recommendations, of which there are over 40. If you want more detail I would recommend these briefings by Farrer and BWB. There is also a summary report available.
Serious incident reporting (SIR) guidance
The Charity Commission has published an updated version of its guidance on ‘How to report a serious incident in your charity’.
The new guidance:
- sets out the commission’s expectation that all charities, regardless of size or income, should report serious incidents (even those below the £25,000 threshold for filing an annual return)
- provides more detail about what is and is not categorised as a serious incident
- includes new tools, such as examples and checklists to make it clearer to trustees what they should, and should not, report to the regulator
- provides greater clarity on incidents resulting in ‘significant financial loss’, making clear that losing significant funding or contracts that the charity can’t replace should be reported to the regulator
- no longer requires trustees to report if their charity doesn’t have a safeguarding policy in place, as that information is now captured through the annual return.
SIR is a form of voluntary reporting – unlike the statutory requirement that charities which are obliged to file an annual return have to confirm within the annual return whether or not they have reported any serious incidents.
Nevertheless, the commission sees serious incident reporting as a key pillar of its regulatory framework and charities are expected to comply. Failure to comply may be treated as evidence of mismanagement and misconduct by the trustees.
The Charity Commission has opened a consultation on the 2018 Annual Return, as part of a two-year project that is reviewing the key information that the commission collects and displays from charities. The commission has said that its intention is to shift to a ‘more dynamic annual return’, that is better targeted and easier to use for charities. The aim is for smaller charities and those with more simple operating structures to answer fewer questions, whereas those that are larger and more complex will be required to answer more.
There are also proposed new questions, including asking:
- if any staff earn over £60,000 and which income brackets they fall into
- how many grants and contracts the charity receives from central and local government, and what is their value
- how much Gift Aid has the charity claimed
- if the charity receives funding from overseas.
In partnership with ACEVO and UK Community Foundations, we have written to the Chancellor ahead of the Autumn Budget with two proposals that will support charities and strengthen local grantmaking:
- To create a successor fund to ESF following Brexit
- To use dormant assets to strengthen local philanthropy so that charities are sustainable for the long term
Paul’s blog post explains these proposals in more detail.
Conversion of companies to CIOs
It’s been a long time coming, and finally parliament has started the process for approving the regulations that are necessary to allow companies to convert to charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) status.
New ‘Inclusive Economy Partnership’
A new Inclusive Economy Partnership has been launched by government in partnership with charity and business leaders, including NCVO.
The aim of the group is to address issues relating to financial inclusion and capability, mental health and transition to work.
Solutions that address these challenges are eligible for support and funding to scale up their work to address the three main areas. Between January and March 2018 businesses and civil society partners will work with successful applicants to expand their work, and those without enough resources will be granted up to £20,000. The fund is being managed by Nesta and the deadline to apply is 4 October.
How to talk about your charity
NCVO has published a new guide on how to talk about charity issues that we know the public are concerned about.
We know that there are ways of talking about some charity topics that better help the public understand what we do and why. And conversely, there are terms charities might use which confuse or turn off the public.
This guide summarises some of what we have learnt in this area and how to apply it to your charity’s communications. Aidan’s blog post explains more about how we developed the guide and how to use it.
Public law toolkit
In partnership with BWB we are holding the yearly ‘Public law toolkit’ event on Thursday 12 October. The aim of this event is to help campaigners, lawyers and others working in charities to understand what tools are available to challenge public authorities’ decisions, how to use public law as a campaigning tool and influence public law decision-making.
The event is free of charge and I hope you can join us – register your place.