The five-minute policy manager – February 2015

February is the shortest month and has gone by in a flash, but there has been so much going on. So here is a quick run through the latest policy and legal developments relevant to the charity and voluntary sector.

Independence Panel report

The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector has published its fourth and final report ‘An Independent Mission’. The report finds that charities are facing increased attacks on their right to speak up on behalf of their beneficiaries and to advance their mission. It calls for a “new settlement” between government and the charity sector, based on trust and a willingness to listen.

Protection of Charities Bill report

The Joint Committee on the draft Protection of Charities bill has published its report, following three months of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Committee supports the proposals to give the Charity Commission more powers to ensure effective regulation of the charity sector. However the Committee has also listened to concerns about excessive discretion in the use of these new powers, and has recommended that effective safeguards must be in place to ensure charities and their trustees are treated fairly by the Commission.

A full summary of the recommendations is available in my blog here.

Essential Trustee consultation

The Charity Commission’s consultation on new CC3 guidance for trustees has now ended. NCVO has submitted a joint response with the ACF and CFG. We expressed concern about the overall tone of the new guide, which felt more prescriptive and regulatory and, as a result, less permissive and encouraging.

Reforms to Judicial Review

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 has now been given royal assent, bringing a number of changes to judicial review. A major change is that an organisation that intervenes as a third party in a judicial review proceeding might have to pay the costs of the other parties incurred as a result of their intervention if certain conditions are met – for example, if the intervener “has behaved unreasonably” or their actions “have not been of significant assistance to the court”.

There is a concern that this could have an impact on charities, which will be deterred from taking part as interveners.

Changes to Audit and Independent Examination

Cabinet Office has published the outcome of its consultation on ‘Charities: audit and independent examination’. In response to the feedback received, the following thresholds will be increased from £500,000 to £1m:

  • income threshold at which a charity should have its accounts audited
  • aggregate group income threshold at which parent charities should have group accounts audited
  • preparation threshold for group accounts

A statutory instrument will be drafted a laid before Parliament before dissolution on 30 March. Changes will come into effect on 31st March 2015.

Campaign to Repeal the Lobbying Act

A group of more than 150 campaigning groups and charities has written to leaders of political parties calling on them to repeal the Lobbying Act. The letter also calls for the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) to be reviewed within 18-months of the May election.

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Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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