Queen’s Speech: What charities need to know

The first Queen’s Speech since the pandemic was always going to be low-key in terms of ceremonial proceedings, with fewer people and less grandeur.

With what has felt like a lost legislative year, parliament can expect to be much busier on legislation in this next session. 30 bills have been announced in today’s speech, a number of which will affect charities.

Charities bill

The government is finally bringing forward legislation to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission’s review of technical issues in charity law, which was published in 2017.

The recommendations have mostly been accepted by the government, meaning the bill will contain the following measures.

  • Allowing charities to keep donations of up to £120 where a fundraising appeal fails to reach its target or achieves a surplus without having to contact the donor. Allowing those funds to be applied to similar purposes, with consent from the Charity Commission required if the proceeds exceed £1000.
  • Making it easier for charities to change their governing documents, including streamlining the process by which charities with Royal Charters can get Privy Council approval.
  • Simplifying the law around disposal of charity land, and making it easier for charities to secure the advice required to do so.
  • Clarifying the law around charity and trustee insolvency.
  • Allowing trustees to make small ex gratia payments (good will payments, where charities are morally, but not legally obligated to make a payment) without the prior authorisation of the Charity Commission.

The government rejected recommendations to review appeal rights to the Charity Tribunal, and to allow parties to appeal directly to the courts when seeking authorisation for charitable proceedings. These will not be included in the bill.

Overall, this legislation will be helpful in simplifying many technical aspects of charity law, and we look forward to seeing the bill progress. The bill is expected to be subject to the Law Commission bill procedure, allowing for second reading to be held in committee. Scrutiny can otherwise take place normally, though the procedure is only available where Law Commission recommendations are being implemented, so new measures or powers cannot be added.

Dormant assets

As part of the pledge to support the voluntary sector, the government will also legislate to extend the dormant assets scheme. Under legislation passed in 2008, money in dormant bank and building society accounts can be put towards social and environmental causes. This has previously been used to fund a number of youth initiatives.

The legislation will extend the current scheme to include asset classes such as investments, insurance and pensions, which the government estimates could unlock an additional £800m. It’s likely to take a few years before any new money starts to come in, even once the legislation has been passed, so it’s important that we’re now making progress.

The legislation may also be an opportunity to talk about how the new money should be used. Legislation is currently quite tightly drafted on what this money can be spent on, and there may be discussions on whether that should be opened up.

The government has indicated they will seek powers to amend this through secondary legislation. We’ve long argued that this money should go towards the Community Wealth Fund proposed by Local Trust, providing long-term, community-led funding.

Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill

The controversial bill has been carried over from the last session, and will start its committee stage in the Commons on 18 May, and finish by 24 June, possibly allowing it to start its Lords stages before the summer recess. NCVO is working with a number of other civil society organisations to call on the government to drop new restrictions on the right to protest.

Procurement bill

As part of several measures designed to support the government’s levelling up agenda, the government will bring forward a bill to update the rules around government procurement, after the UK’s exit from the EU.

The government launched a procurement green paper at the end of last year which we gave an initial response to.

Dissolution and calling of parliament bill

As set out in the Conservative manifesto, the government will repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and in its place, restore the royal prerogative power exercised by the prime minister to call early general elections at a time of their choosing.

Electoral integrity bill

A bill will be introduced to make further amendments to election rules, including the requirement for those voting in person to produce photo ID. A number of civil society organisations have warned that this is a disproportionate requirement which will disenfranchise poorer and ethnic minority communities.

Social care

The speech did mention proposals would be brought forward on social care, but once again there’s no sign of an imminent bill. The lack of an imminent bill on social care has unsurprisingly has caused concern for a number of charities.

After a year in which parliament has put a number of long-term plans on hold to deal with the pandemic, this Queen’s Speech represents a full parliamentary agenda. It’s clear the government are keen to move forward with the recovery.

Whether these measures will achieve that goal remains to be seen, but there are plenty of issues for charities to get involved in. Hopefully, there will also be plenty of opportunities for charities and organisations in the voluntary sector to use their expertise and experience on the ground to make sure this bumper legislative year has as big an impact as possible.


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Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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