Policy Round-Up: December 2016

Sleigh bells are jingling and the halls are decked with boughs of holly, so here is my Christmas present to the policy folks out there who are dreaming of a white Christmas.

December has been a busy month, with a number of announcements and policy developments amid the Christmas shopping, mulled wine drinking and mince pie eating. I’ve rounded up what I think are the most important, but please do comment below or tweet me @ncvoliz if there is anything I’ve missed.

Disclaimer: government gave our sector an early Christmas present when it announced that it has replaced the anti-lobbying clause with a set of 10 minimum grant-making standards for departments and arm’s length bodies. This is covered extensively in blogs from my colleague Nick Davies and our CEO Sir Stuart Etherington.

Launch of How Charities Work website

We have launched http://howcharitieswork.com/: a website that answers some of the common questions people have about charities.

Our aim is to help charities explain to their supporters and the public what they do and how they operate, so that people understand and have complete confidence in our sector. So the website tackles issues such as:

  • how charities are regulated
  • whether there are too many charities
  • why do charities pay their staff and how much
  • how charities fundraise.

Your views are important so we can continue to develop the website, so please feedback what you think and any suggestions you may have.

Fundraising and data protection

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued monetary penalty notices against the British Heart Foundation and the RSPCA.

The penalties are based on the ICO’s finding that both organisations breached data protection legislation when engaging in the following activities:

  • sharing and swapping the personal data of donors
  • using wealth screening companies to analyse the financial position of supporters
  • data-matching and tele-matching.

Although the practices themselves are not illegal, the ICO’s view is that BHF’s and RSPCA’s fair processing notices were too vague and ambiguous, and therefore did not provide individuals with adequate information about how their data would be used.

Following the fines the Charity Commission and Fundraising Regulator have issued a joint alert to charities reminding trustees that, as well as complying with charity law requirements, they must ensure that their charities have systems in place to identify and comply with relevant data protection laws. The alert sets out a number of steps which the regulators expect charities and trustees to be taking, including:

  • reviewing the charity’s data protection policy – this in particular should include reviewing fair processing statements to ensure they are explicit, clear, transparent and highly visible
  • reviewing how the charity gets consent from its donors, to make sure it is transparent, clear and meets the requirement of having ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous consent’
  • assessing the charity’s data governance systems and processes to ensure they are fit for purpose and evidence sufficient oversight, control, are operating and effective – this includes ensuring there is a clear framework of ownership and accountability in place.

Charities will also be interested in the joint educational event on data protection announced by the Charity Commission. This will be hosted jointly by the Commission, ICO and the Fundraising Regulator and it is expected to take place in February.

Charity Commission new powers – revised guidance

The Charity Commission has published its responses, and supplementary information, on how it will use its new powers to issue official warnings, and to disqualify individuals from trusteeship.

Both the revised guidance on official warnings and the revised explanatory statement on discretionary disqualification show that the Commission has listened to many of the concerns raised by NCVO and others, and has made a number of changes.

Revisions to guidance on official warnings

  • The Commission has published a Q&A document to explain many of the practical issues as to how warnings will be made.
  • Confirmation that it will give 28 days’ notice, unless there are specific reasons for longer or shorter periods.
  • Confirmation of the wide range of issues on which representations can be made, as well as the process by which they will be addressed.
  • Confirmation that decisions on publication will be made on a case-by-case basis, and published the criteria that staff will take into account.

Revisions on disqualifying trustees

  • The explanatory statement on the criteria that need to be met has been revised, with clearer information about its approach to the three ‘disqualification bands’ (i.e. the length of period an individual will be disqualified for).
  • There is a Q&A document to accompany the explanatory statement which addresses many of the practical issues of the process the commission will follow for making a disqualification order and the implications for a person who is disqualified.
  • The explanatory statement also includes a number of reassuring statements from the Commission, such as making clear that in using the power it will follow principles of best regulatory practice and comply with the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, and expressly recognising that ‘trustees are unpaid volunteers who give up their personal time to do something for social good. The Commission supports and encourages voluntary participation in charities, in accordance with its statutory duties, and does not want to penalise a person simply because they made a mistake or misjudgement, particularly if the impact is low or minimal.’
  • The public interest test is now set out in a way that clarifies that the Commission will take account of circumstances where it is not desirable in the public interest to make a disqualification order in the particular case, even if there are concerns about the person’s fitness to be a trustee.
  • In response to the concerns that the disqualification order applies to individuals in a senior management position, the guidance now explains that the commission will specifically consider whether or not the disqualification order should contain an exception in each case.

Charity Commission board members

Three new members of the Charity Commission board have been announced:

  • Laurie Benson, the CEO of the media consultancy firm Upnexxt
  • Paul Martin, a security adviser
  • Catherine Quinn, chief operating officer and associate dean at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.

Read NCVO’s reaction.

Fundraising Preference Service

The Fundraising Regulator has announced its plans for the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS).

The FPS will operate as follows.

  • It will allow users to block all communications from individual named charities.
  • Where individuals use the FPS they will be blocking all forms of communication from the named charities.
  • Charities with pre-existing relationships with donors will not be able to “check in” with donors to ensure they were intended to be included in the FPS registration. If they have been named by the FPS user, they must stop contact regardless of any pre-existing relationship.
  • The FPS will apply to all charities: there will be no exclusion for small charities.

The FPS is set to be launched in spring/early summer 2017, and the Fundraising Regulator has stated that it will produce guidance for the public.

Volunteering review

Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson has launched an independent review to look at the challenges and benefits of young people committing to full-time social action (more than 16 hours a week).  The review will look at how to increase participation in full-time social action by reviewing the opportunities and barriers faced by organisations supporting young people. The advisory panel will include experts from the private and voluntary sectors and is expected to make recommendations to the Minister for Civil Society by October 2017.


We have published a blog looking at the relationship between charities and the EU.

Using data from the Almanac, the blog looks at what our data and research tells us about the following four areas: funding, where they operate, workforce and giving.

Charity Commission survey on digital services

The Charity Commission has launched a new customer survey about its digital services.

The Commission is looking for input on what it can do to improve the range and quality of its current digital offering and changes or additions that would improve the overall user experience. It includes questions on users’ priorities when speaking with the Commission and their preferred methods of communication.

The survey will stay open until Wednesday 18 January. Responses will be used to help shape the Commission’s future digital communication tools and projects.

Public Service Ombudsman

The Government has published a draft bill setting out in detail its plans to introduce a new Public Service Ombudsman. The new proposals seek to bring together the responsibilities of the current Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman to create “a new organisation with strengthened governance and accountability”.

Communities Fund

The government has announced a new ‘Communities Fund’ that will support projects aimed at developing local solutions and bringing together the community and local authorities to design and implement services in partnership.

The fund is worth £2.5 million and is open to applications from small grassroots community groups including neighbourhood organisations, parishes and local voluntary groups. Alongside grants of £70,000 or more, grassroots organisations will benefit from expert advice from the local government sector, training from a ‘grassroots network’ and advice on evaluating the success of their services.

Bids are due by 16 January 2017 and funding will be provided up to April 2018.


Merry Christmas!


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

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