Press release

Regulator getting ‘smarter, more creative and more innovative’ in explaining law

Sarah Atkinson talks about the importance of the Charity Commission’s guidance.

The commission says it is getting “smarter, more creative and more innovative” in its approach to helping trustees manage their charities in line with the law.

Speaking at a Westminster Policy Forum seminar on charity law and regulation, Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy and Communications at the regulator, explained that the commission is strengthening its approach to tackling abuse and mismanagement, efforts which were acknowledged in the recent National Audit Office follow-up review. She said the commission is “getting tougher on the minority who put their charities at serious risk - and better at seeing them coming”.

But she stressed that the commission will “never focus exclusively on finding and disrupting the ‘bad guys’. One of our greatest challenges over the next few years will be to keep helping the majority do their best, while focusing greater resources on the relatively small number that put their charity at risk”.

She said:

I am proud of the quality of guidance we provide for charities. I think we do a great job with limited resources. But the fact that we see the same problems occurring again and again in charities - poor financial controls, poor decision making - tells us that too many trustees don’t understand their basic duties. We have to change that. So we are getting smarter, more creative and more innovative in reaching trustees and preventing serious problems from arising.

Sarah Atkinson pointed to the commission’s guidance on conflicts of interest and the revised The essential trustee (CC3), which is currently under consultation, as examples of the regulator making clearer to trustees what is expected of them.

But she stressed that the sector and the commercial world would need to step up if charities are to continue to receive the support they need. She said the commission would not be able to “hand-hold” trustees through problems or provide bespoke support to individual organisations.

Speaking about recent criticisms of the commission from sector leaders, Sarah Atkinson said:

I am convinced of the need for a strong, constructive relationship between the commission and the charities we regulate. We have to consult widely on changes that affect charities and we must always listen to and consider carefully charities’ representations. But our relationship with the sector should never be cosy. We are the sector’s regulator, not its defender or champion. So I don’t fear occasional criticism from charities - in fact, if charities never complained about us, I would worry we were doing something wrong.


PR 06/15

Notes to editors

  1. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales.
  2. The commission’s mission is to be the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:
    • charities know what they have to do
    • the public know what charities do
    • charities are held to account
  3. Sarah Atkinson was speaking at the Westminster Social Policy Forum seminar on Next steps for charity law, regulation and finance on Tuesday 10 February in London.
  4. The commission is currently consulting on a revised version of its guidance ‘The essential trustee’. The consultation runs until 17 February 2015.

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