Leading charities and legal experts call for amendments to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill to be adopted by a House of Commons Bill Committee today, citing serious threats to the independence of charities and charity trustees.
Despite being debated for nearly two years, charity law experts maintain there are still a number of clauses in the Bill that would seriously damage charity independence. The charity Directory of Social Change (DSC) has joined Acevo, Bond, ACF, CFG and law firm BWB in briefing MPs and proposing amendments to the Bill (see notes).
The group is demanding better safeguards and routes of redress in relation to the proposed power for the Charity Commission to give official warnings to charities (Clause 1). It is backing amendments that would restrict the Commission’s power to publish warnings, require a minimum notice period for the warning, and provide a right to appeal a warning to the Charity Tribunal.
Another amendment covers the proposed power for the Charity Commission to disqualify a person from volunteering as a trustee. The current Bill would allow the Charity Commission to do this on the grounds ‘that any other past or continuing conduct by the person, whether or not in relation to a charity, is damaging or likely to be damaging to public trust and confidence in charities generally or in the charities or classes of charity specified or described in the order’. The amendment would remove this wording on the basis that it is far too broad and open to subjective interpretation.
Jay Kennedy, Director of Policy and Research at the charity Directory of Social Change (DSC) said: ‘The proposed power for the Charity Commission to disqualify trustees is based on extremely broad tests and poses a major threat to the independence of charities. We’re in danger of sleepwalking through a tectonic shift in power between the state and civil society. The discretion afforded by the language in the Bill is so wide, it essentially means the Commission could disqualify anybody for practically any reason from being a charity trustee, regardless of whether that person had been convicted of any crime or found guilty of wrongdoing.’
He concluded: ‘Put bluntly this new power would make the Charity Commission judge, jury and executioner for charity trustees. It is simply not proportionate or desirable in a free and liberal society. We urge all MPs, not just those on the Bill Committee, to scrutinise this legislation and to support amendments to the Bill that would curb the Commission’s latitude and protect charity independence. It is an issue which affects hundreds of charities and thousands of trustees working in every parliamentary constituency in the country.’