The civil society strategy: What it says about regulation

This blog post is one of a series on the civil society strategy. For an overview of the strategy, please see our post on What you need to know


When it comes to regulation, the civil society strategy indicates more continuity than change. This is something to be welcomed: we’ve already had a lot of change in regulation over the past few years, with new powers for the Charity Commission, a new Fundraising Regulator and the coming into force of GDPR. Given the pressure on parliamentary time and government capacity due to the Brexit process, it’s also unsurprising that legislation- or regulation-heavy change isn’t on the cards at the moment.

As a result, the strategy is more about confirming the direction of travel and changes which were already planned, together with addressing urgent challenges which have arisen this year.


The government confirms its plans to develop and implement measures to strengthen safeguarding in charities.

The commitments in the strategy build on the safeguarding summits held in March and June 2018. Those summits agreed that strong safeguarding required having the right leadership, culture, policies and processes, and a focus on protecting people at risk whatever their circumstances or relationship with the charity, including staff and volunteers as well as beneficiaries.

Most of the resulting work is being led by our sector. ACEVO has been leading on how leadership can help build a safer culture in charities, while NCVO has been leading on strengthening our capacity and capability around safeguarding. But the government’s continued support is, of course, hugely welcome and important.

Fundraising Regulator

The strategy also commits the government to review the operation and impact of the Fundraising Regulator. This was already announced in July. It’s a light-touch review, intended to make sure the regulator is fulfilling the role intended for it by the cross-party review of fundraising self-regulation in 2015.

There’s already been a lot of change in this area over the past few years, including the creation of the regulator itself as a non-membership body which owns the Code of Fundraising Practice. Since it was created, the regulator has been working to establish itself, raise its profile – and, of course, get charities to register and, where applicable, pay their levy. It has also set up the Fundraising Preference Service, another big change, which allows people to choose to stop receiving communications from a selected charity or charities.

So it’s right for the strategy to confirm the current direction of travel.

Charity Commission

The strategy seems to confirm that the Charity Commission is still planning to consult on charging charities for regulation, though it’s been heavily delayed. The explicit commitment is to work with the Charity Commission to explore options to place it on a secure and sustainable financial footing and ensure it is adequately resourced to meet future challenges, but given the wider context it’s fairly clear what this means. NCVO will engage constructively with the consultation when it appears, but we have set out five tests against which we’ll judge any proposals.


The strategy commits the government to work with civil society and the Charity Commission to agree on joint action to support more people from different backgrounds becoming trustees.

Given the findings of the commission’s Taken on Trust research, this is welcome. Apart from being the right thing to do, greater diversity on boards helps include the widest range of skills, experiences and perspectives in a charity’s decision-making. NCVO has already been doing some work on this. The Charity Governance Code has diversity as a key principle. Our Step on Board programme also encourages and supports corporate employees to become trustees, and Knowhow Nonprofit includes some information on equality and diversity in volunteering (which of course includes being a trustee).

This is an area we’re thinking about more, and we had a number of sessions at our Annual Conference looking at diversity – which you can read more about here.

Charity digital code of practice

The government will support the development of an effective charity digital code of practice for charity leaders and trustees. Digital can provide all kinds of opportunities, especially for smaller charities: making fundraising easier, helping spread a charity’s message quickly and more besides. But it’s an area where the sector may be falling behind and where charities themselves have concerns. 69% of charities in this year’s Charity Digital Skills Report cite their board’s digital skills as low or having room for improvement.

NCVO and other organisations have been involved in this initiative, which aims to:

  • develop charities’ digital skills
  • improve take up of digital activity in charities
  • create a level playing field for all organisations by increasing digital motivation and confidence.

The code is being consulted on at the moment, so if you’d like to respond, you can do so here.

What next?

Possibly the biggest regulatory issue facing charities in the coming months will be the Commission’s plans to introduce some form of charging.

When the consultation on the detailed proposals for charging is launched, it could be something of a test for the wider strategy, especially its commitment to supporting and enabling civil society to achieve its potential and not simply setting out what it wants from the sector.

These are some of the key questions which we think could give us an idea of whether that commitment is being lived up to:

  • How long will the consultation last for?
  • Will the commission make a clear case for providing additional services on the basis of need, or will charging simply be to plug existing gaps?
  • What commitments will there be to protecting current Treasury funding for the commission?
  • Will the cumulative impact of different costs for charities be considered?
  • How open will the commission be to revising its proposals based on feedback?

We will be watching this consultation closely and engaging with our members so we represent your views.

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Douglas Dowell is one of NCVO's senior policy officers, working mainly on charity law and regulation.

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