London, 11 May 2015 – Delegates at ICSA’s recent Charity Governance Conference in London heard how the Charity Commission is toughening its stance in its role as Regulator. Speaking at the conference, Cecile Gillard, Charities Legal Manager at Burton Sweet explained that the updated version of its Essential Trustee guidance, which is due to be published in the early summer, uses firmer language than before and she urged charity secretaries to read the small print carefully as the tone and approach reinforces that the Commission is a Regulator with a capital ‘R’.
All charities and all trustees are subject to the guidance, including those such as Housing Associations and Academy Schools who are not required to be registered with the Commission. Cecile highlighted that the Commission is moving towards a ‘must’ approach rather than a ‘should’ approach.
‘[Trustees] must do what will best enable the charity to carry out its purposes ……….. [and] make balanced and adequately informed decisions, thinking about the long term as well as the short term’ [Extract from the draft revised guidance]
“Eighty one per cent of registered charities in England and Wales have income under £100,000 per annum and only one in six have paid staff - the others are entirely volunteer led and operated. Too tough an approach from the charity regulator might have a detrimental effect in terms of the number of people willing to become a trustee,” said Cecile.
Cecile also commented “There are some important things missing from the draft guidance, such as this really useful summary of the role of trustees that you find in the current version.”
'Trustees have and must accept ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of a charity, and ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up.'
“It’s important to understand that the Charity Commission’s core role is to carry out particular charity regulatory and public registry functions, which are rightly required of it under the Charities Act 2011. It must carry all of those out by applying the current law, as that law has been interpreted and applied by the courts. The Commission has no power to change the law or to make definitive rulings on the correct interpretation of the law.
Changing the law is a matter essentially for Parliament, through legislation, and developing the law, through common law, and interpreting that law, is ultimately a matter for the courts.”
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