25 February 2015
The Draft Protection of Charities Bill proposes greater regulatory powers for the Charity Commission, which has been backed by the Joint Committee.
Greater powers for the charity regulator includes the power to issue a statutory warning to a charity as a useful tool that falls in between issuing guidance and the opening of an inquiry.
The proposals also extend the list of offences for which conviction would automatically disqualify a person from acting as a charity trustee. These offences include terrorism, money laundering and perjury.
The Joint Committee has also made suggestions regarding the proposals, such as that the statutory warning process within in the proposals include safeguards limiting the circumstances in which a warning could be issued; a requirement on the Commission to issue written notice of a warning to a charity; and a reasonable time period for a charity to respond before the warning is formally issued and published.
The Joint Committee has added that it has heard concerns the new offences might restrict the important rehabilitation opportunities for offenders which charity trusteeship can offer – the Charity Commission could do more to promote understanding of the availability of waivers and simplify wherever possible the waiver application and decision-making process.
According to the Joint Committee, there is also a lack of clarity over the effect of cautions, rather than convictions, for disqualifying offences which the Government should address.
The Joint Committee has added that it does not support the inclusion of overseas convictions for equivalent offences as drafted and calls on the Government to do further work to explore whether instead it could apply the regime proposed for disqualifying directors in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.
In addition to the clauses set out in the Bill, the Joint Committee states that the report addresses an important issue, which witnesses from the charity sector raised in evidence, such as the problems anti-terrorism legislation causes for charities working in conflict zones.
The ban on UK charities giving ‘indirect support’ to proscribed organisations anywhere in the world makes it very difficult for them to get access to and provide humanitarian assistance in places such as Syria and areas of Africa controlled by Boko Haram. Charities working in these areas claimed the legislation had a ‘chilling effect’ on their work with victims of conflict, who were often the people in most dire need.