Settle disputes between your charity's trustees, staff or members to avoid putting your charity’s funds and users at risk.
Why internal disputes are a problem
Charity trustees, staff and members can sometimes disagree with each other over decisions about the charity.
A serious disagreement within a charity may cause the charity problems and damage its reputation.
It is your responsibility as trustees to try to resolve a disagreement or dispute. The Charity Commission can only get involved in exceptional circumstances.
How to resolve a dispute yourself
Your charity’s governing document may include a ‘disputes clause’ with procedures for dealing with a dispute. Even if it doesn’t, you should do everything you can to reach an agreement yourselves.
When to get external help
Charity trustees and members need to work together to settle any differences they have. If your trustees can’t reach an agreement and follow the directions in your governing document, you may need to look for some independent external help.
An independent third party will look at both sides and come up with some fresh ways to resolve the dispute.
If the dispute is about the way your charity is run, you could:
- approach the charity’s national or umbrella body, if it has one
- contact an organisation like the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
- ask a local church leader or community elder for help, if it is a religious dispute
Mediation is a more formal way to settle disputes. It is a private and confidential process in which an independent person meets with both sides, helping them to reach a solution that everyone finds acceptable.
Mediation can be quick and cost-effective. Through mediation, both sides must agree to any solution, so it is more likely to be a lasting agreement.
If your dispute is taken to court, you will be expected to have tried mediation first.
When to involve the Charity Commission
The commission can only get involved in internal disputes when:
- there are no trustees (or correctly appointed trustees) in place, and
- you can show that all attempts to resolve the dispute have failed
Any trustees must have been appointed following the directions laid out in your charity’s governing document. If you don’t have any properly appointed trustees, the commission may step in to help you get a full body of trustees.
If the commission finds evidence of misconduct or mismanagement that put your charity’s funds and users at risk, it will step in and provide advice and guidance.
Even after the commission gets involved, your trustees need to work together to come up with a solution. If the commission thinks a solution will not be reached, it may withdraw its help or even instruct your charity to cease operating and wind up.
When the commission won’t get involved
The commission will not get involved if your dispute is about trustees’ decisions or policies. Trustees are free to make decisions for their charity, so long as they are acting within the law and within the rules of the charity’s governing document.
There may be other organisations that are better placed to get involved in certain disputes. For example, apply to an employment tribunal for employment issues including unfair dismissal.
Only contact the Charity Commission if all your attempts to reach a solution have failed and you have no properly appointed trustees. You’ll need to provide written evidence about the dispute.