It’s Autumn – time to review charity law

September is upon us (although I am still wondering what happened to the ‘barbecue summer’ I was promised) and here at NCVO we are gearing up for a very busy Autumn. Starting with the launch of a special Advisory Group that will lead a review of current charity legislation.

For the past weeks I have been sending out letters and liaising with the PAs of some very busy people, but it’s all been worthwhile: Baroness Howe of Idlicote has agreed to chair the group, which will be formed by Lord Low of Dalston, Sir Nicholas Young, Rosie Chapman, Dominic Fox, Stephen Lloyd, Christine Rigby, Francesca Quint, John Stoker and our very own Sir Stuart.

Following the press release a few people have questioned the need for NCVO to be carrying out this sort of work, and I guess this is because the Office for Civil Society is already required by the Act itself (section 73) to appoint a person to review the operation of the Act. However there are some key considerations that I would like to point out.

First of all, our review will be independent and led primarily by the needs and concerns of our sector. While obviously we aim to make our findings and recommendations available to the relevant Government departments, this is a very different approach to the one that is likely to be taken by whoever is eventually appointed by Nick Hurd. In fact, rumour has it that initially OCS saw the review mostly as a technical ‘tidying up’ exercise, and was eager to manage expectations. We, on the other hand, see this as an important opportunity to review and simplify the laws and regulations that most affect the activities of our members and charities generally.

This is a major difference and it will become evident over the next months when we identify the areas on which the group will focus its attention. OCS has already indicated that there is unlikely to be time to consider any revising legislation in the current Parliament, so its own review is likely to prioritise changes that can be made by secondary legislation. Obviously resources and Parliamentary time will also be important considerations for the Advisory Group, but I expect that it if problems are identified or if something isn’t working and needs reforming, the members of the group will want to tackle it head on.

There are also ‘historical’ reasons why NCVO is taking such a lead: the Charities Act 2006 is the result of a campaign by charities themselves, headed by us from 2004 to 2006. The need to reform charity law was first highlighted by the Deakin Commission report published by NCVO in 1996 (‘Meeting the Challenge of Change: Voluntary Action in the 21st Century. Report of the Commission on the Future of the Voluntary Sector’). And many of the key recommendation that guided the drafting of the Act where made in the NCVO report ‘For the Public Benefit? A Consultation Document on Charity Law Reform’.

As for what will be on the agenda, there are a number of starting points: first of all, OCS is obliged to look at the issues listed by s. 73 of the 2006 Act. In addition, since the Act’s implementation there have been a number of Ministerial commitments to look at some key issues. On top of that, charity lawyers have identified a number of reforms they would like to see. And of course it is to be expected that the Charity Commission will have a ‘wish list’.

So it is understandable that NCVO also wants to contribute to this important debate, and over the following months we will be engaging our members to hear what they want to see included in the review.  So watch this space to follow the Advisory Group’s work and to feed in your thoughts!

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth is head of policy and public services at NCVO. She has been part of the policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

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