Public policy round-up: December 2018

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and nothing spreads more festive cheer than an update on the key policy and regulatory developments that have happened this past month, so here is my Christmas present to all.

Adverse publicity clauses in government contracts

Following last month’s update on the use of adverse publicity clauses in government contracts we have now received letters from both the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Prime Minister: both make it clear that it is not the intention of these clauses to stop providers or affiliates from fairly criticising government departments or government policy.

The Prime Minister’s letter is a particularly strong recognition of the importance of the voice of charities, and should give charities confidence that their right to campaign and their role in informing the development of public policy are recognised and respected.

You can read the full letter in our chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington’s blog about campaigning.

Regulatory alert to charitable think tanks

The Charity Commission has issued a regulatory alert to think tanks.

This follows action taken by the Commission towards the Institute of Economic Affairs, which was ordered to remove a report from its website because it was deemed to be ‘not sufficiently balanced and neutral as required of an educational charity under charity law’.

The alert doesn’t say anything that is not already required by the general guidance on charities and campaigning (CC9).

Its purpose is to remind trustees of charitable think tanks of their legal obligations and duties to retain balance and neutrality in their research work and publications, and is helpful in drawing out specific issues for trustees of charitable think tanks to consider.

The alert was accompanied by a letter from the Commission’s Chief Executive Helen Stephenson setting out an expectation that trustees should carefully consider the new advice, including discussing it at a future board meetings, to ensure compliance with charity law. The letter also warns that ignoring the advice could be deemed as misconduct or mismanagement.

Charitable status and CAM therapies

Following a consultation held in 2017 regarding the use and promotion of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies and the assessment of charitable status, the Charity Commission has published the outcome of its review into this area.

While the basic legal principles that apply to assessing applications for charitable status by CAM organisations remain the same, the Commission has changed its approach to assessing whether CAM organisations are charities. In particular the Commission may ask for different information from some new applicants for registration, and will need to consider whether any currently registered CAM charities may be affected as a result.

Changes to Charity Commission governance

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced three new members to the Commission’s board: Tony Cohen, Ian Karet and Nina Hingorani-Crain will take up their posts in from 1 January.

These appointments come as the Commission has published its updated governance framework. A key change is that the CEO Helen Stephenson has joined the board: this is to ensure that “the CEO’s role as accounting officer is more clearly represented at the highest level of corporate decision-making and brings the Commission into line with recommended governance practices of other similar bodies.”

Data protection and Brexit

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued new guidance related to the UK’s exit from the European Union on 29 March 2019.

While the basis on which the UK will leave the EU has still to be decided, the government has made clear that GDPR will be absorbed into UK law at the point of exit so there will be no substantive change to the rules that most organisations need to follow. But organisations that rely on the transfer of data between the UK and European Economic Area may be affected.

The new ‘Six Steps to Take’ guide is aimed at helping all organisations make precautionary preparations that will help them ensure that data flows continue.

Further material relating to Brexit are located on the ICO’s dedicated Brexit webpage.

Government’s ‘Good Work Plan’

The Government has published the ‘Good Work Plan’, which builds on its earlier response to the Taylor Review on the impact of digital platforms on modern working practices and the rights of workers.

The Good Work Plan sets out government’s vision for the future of the UK labour market with a number of proposals for employment law reform, aimed at ensuring “that workers can access fair and decent work, that both employers and workers have the clarity they need to understand their employment relationships, and that the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose”.

Charities as employers are likely to be interested in following the development of the changes, particularly the commitment to eradicate unpaid internships.

Changes to immigration rules

The government has published a new statement of changes (HC1779) which confirms that a 12 month cooling off period will be introduced for Tier 5 religious and charity workers with effect from 10 January 2019.

If an application has been made for entry clearance or leave to enter or remain before 10 January 2019, the application will be decided in accordance with the Immigration Rules in force on 9 January 2019. This means that the individuals will need to spend a minimum of 12 months outside the UK before returning in either category.

NCVO is currently working with a number of organisations to follow up on some wider issues around tier 5 visas. If you have any questions please get in touch with my colleague Shaun Delaney.

Immigration White Paper

The government has published the Immigration White Paper, setting out its plans to control immigration post-Brexit by introducing a minimum salary threshold and skills-based points system for access to UK jobs.

More details about the White Paper can be found on the Home Office website.

Changes to probate fees

Following government’s announcement to change probate fees, and in particular the news that government would be revising its previous proposal for reforming probate fees and would be pushing ahead with removing the existing flat rate of £215, there has been a lot of concern amongst charities.

The Institute for Legacy Management has warned that the new probate structure could see charitable wills costing, in some cases, thousands of pounds more than they do currently, and has raised concerns that this could deter people from leaving donations in their wills

But while debating the draft Non-Contentious Probate (Fee) Order, the House of Lords voted in favour of a motion to regret the proposed changes. While this does not formally stop the Government’s plans, it allows Lords to put their dissent on the record. It could also mean that government could back down in light of the Lords’ pressure.

Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

The House of Lords has passed a crucial amendment to the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which exempts aid workers and others with a legitimate reason to travel to areas where extremist groups operate, from prosecution.

Bond has been leading the work in this area, highlighting how the bill would otherwise have severely restricted NGOs’ ability to operate in some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.


And finally… Hoo-hoo-hoo.



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

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