Public policy round-up: June 2017

If you’re a trustee or you work with a governance board you may be interested in the NCVO/BWB Trustee Conference 2017 which will bring together colleagues from across the sector to explore what good governance looks like for modern charities.

Anyone who was hoping for things to settle after the general election and for June to be the month when business went back to usual, will have been dealt a bit of a surprise.

As the political front has been in turmoil, with a hung parliament and attempts at reaching a majority through a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP, here is a round up of what has been happening in the charity policy-legal-regulatory world.

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech was delivered on 21 June – with a slight delay from the originally intended date (with some speculating that this is because it has to be printed on goatskin paper).

Despite many sector leaders lamenting the lack of focus on charities, and the dominance of Brexit, there are a number of proposed bills that are relevant to charities and the work that they do. In particular, charities are likely to be affected by changes brought through:

  • the data protection bill
  • the courts bill
  • the repeal bill
  • the immigration bill.

Read Chris’ blog on what the Queen’s Speech means for charities, including how to work in a two-year parliamentary session.

The end of the general election and the Lobbying Act – what next?

In the run up to the general election so much time and effort was devoted to highlighting the difficulties that the Lobbying Act caused, that many charities missed an opportunity to get their more important messages across on the issues they work on.

That’s not to say that there were some great examples of charities campaigning, but unfortunately the confusion surrounding the Act increased its so-called ‘chilling effect’.

That is why, despite being clear that the Lobbying Act doesn’t stop charities from campaigning, we have written to the new minister for the Cabinet Office Damian Green calling for the implementation of Lord Hodgson’s recommended changes.

Here is my summary of the changes proposed and why they would improve the Act.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Lobbying Act

The UN Special Rapporteur also supports the proposals made by Lord Hodgson in his report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/35/28/Add.1), and urges the Government to take positive measures to implement them.

In particular, it’s important that the report expressly calls for the statutory definition of ‘controlled expenditure’ to be changed to one based on actual intention, so only activities that are actually intended to influence voters are taken into account.

A hung parliament and the regulatory period

In the meantime, given the instability of the current government, many are asking themselves what happens if another snap general election is called. After all, many commentators have already begun speculating on whether the next vote might not be far away.

What does this mean for the ‘regulated period’?

  • According to the rules, the regulated period starts 365 days before polling day.
  • So if there is a general election within 365 days of this last one, the regulated period will start retrospectively on 9 June 2017.
  • This is regardless of the date of polling day, provided it is on or before 8 June 2018.
  • There would however be no overlap with the regulated period for the election that has just taken place.
  • The registration threshold and the spending limits would be the same as for the election that has just taken place.

Brexit and EU citizens rights

The government has finally set out its offer on how EU citizens living in the UK will be treated post-Brexit in its policy paper Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.

The stated objective is to ensure continuity in the immigration status of EU citizens and their family member’s resident in the UK before the country’s departure from the EU – including their ability to access benefits and services.

Key elements of the offer are:

  • until the UK’s exit, while the UK remains a member of the EU, EU citizens resident here will continue to enjoy the rights they have under EU Treaties
  • after Brexit, there will be new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens
  • to qualify, an EU citizen must have been resident in the UK before a specified date and must have completed a period of five years’ continuous residence
  • EU citizens that qualify will have to apply for their residence status
  • qualifying individuals that are granted ‘settled status’ will be free to reside in any capacity and undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and services and to apply for British citizenship
  • EU citizens who arrived and became resident before the specified date but who have not accrued five years’ continuous residence at the time of the UK’s exit will be able to apply for temporary status in order to remain resident in the UK until they have accumulated five years, after which they will be eligible to apply for settled status.

These are just some of the headlines, and there is much to be negotiated in the detail.

We have made it clear from the start that the rights of EU nationals must be protected.

More recently in our General Election Manifesto we have called for the right to stay of EU nationals to be resolved without delay, and for simple and effective visa requirements to be put in place to enable people from overseas to continue to join our communities and contribute to our public services.

We will therefore be watching closely the negotiations, and would like to hear your views on how the proposals are likely to have an impact on your workforce. In particular, please leave a comment below or email my colleague Brendan about:

  • how many EU nationals work in your organisation
  • your experience in supporting employees in applying for UK citizenship or permanent residence
  • any changes you have seen in the employment market over the past year which has affected your organisation.

Fundraising Preference Service ready for launch

The Fundraising Preference Service is on track to launch on 6 July.

Charities with an annual fundraising spend exceeding £100,000 should have already received an email from the FR about getting set up on the system before it launches. All other charities will only be contacted if a suppression request is lodged against their charity by a member of the public.

How will it work?

  • The FPS will enable individuals to:
    • identify particular charities from which they want to stop communications
    • select specific forms of communication that they wish to stop (eg telephone calls, emails or addressed mail)
  • Once a suppression request has been made by a member of the public, the charity in question will have 28 days in which to cease contacting that person – although the public would also be warned that timeframe may not be achievable for some charities, particularly in the case of direct mailing campaigns.
  • Once that initial 28 day period has expired, if an individual continues to hear from that charity, the FPS will issue the charity with a follow-up notification.
  • Although the Fundraising Regulator cannot itself issue any fines for failure to comply with suppression requests, the ICO will treat contact from a charity to an individual signed up to the FPS as a section 11 breach of the Data Protection Act and could be followed up by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

See here for a more detailed guide for charities on the FPS.

Charity Commission memoranda of understanding

The Charity Commission has agreed a MoU with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure closer working and better collaboration between the two regulators.

The Commission has also entered into a series of MoUs with local authorities (with Oxford City Council, the Kent Intelligence Network, and Broxbourne Borough Council ). It is understood that these agreements are part of a pilot project designed to address business rates avoidance.

Good Governance Code

Following an extensive consultation, the revised Good Governance Code is due to be launched around 11 July. Rosie Chapman, chair of the steering group that led the revision, has set out some of the key changes in this article.

British Social Attitudes report

The National Centre’s for Social Research latest report into British Social Attitudes explores the trends and recent events that have changed Britain over the past year, and examines the attitudes behind them.

An interesting finding is that, after seven years of government austerity, public opinion is showing signs of moving back in favour of wanting more tax and spend, and greater redistribution of income, in particular favour towards prioritising spending on disabled people.

This year’s report also looks at:

 

 

 

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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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