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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/charity-commission-governance-framework/governance-framework
1.1 The Charity Commission, (the ‘Commission’) recognises that to deliver its strategic aims, objectives and priorities successfully, it needs sound corporate governance arrangements in place. Corporate governance is founded on laws, policies, processes, systems and behaviours and together they provide a system for the way in which an organisation is directed, administered and controlled.
1.2 The Commission’s governance framework sets out the roles, responsibilities and procedures for the effective and efficient conduct of its business. It is regularly reviewed so that it remains at the forefront of best practice.
1.3 As a public body, the Commission is committed to governance excellence and to being accountable and transparent for its decisions and activities.
1.4 The aim of this framework is to provide information about how governance works within the Commission.
You can read about our management and board members on the website homepage.
2. About the Commission
2.1 The Commission is the registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales. Its core role is to protect the public’s interest in the integrity of charity.
2.2 The Commission is a non-ministerial government department and part of the Civil Service. The Commission is, by law, independent from ministerial influence or control over its day-to-day operations and decision-making. The Charities Act 2011 (‘the Act’) section 13 (4), states that: ‘In the exercise of its functions, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any Minister of the Crown or other government department.’
2.3 It is a body corporate, with a board consisting of a chair and up to eight members of the Commission (‘board members’) responsible for its governance and strategy. Day-to-day management and operation of the Commission is delegated to the chief executive. Board members are office holders rather than employees; staff, including the chief executive, are all civil servants.
2.4 The Commission operates under Schedule 1 of the Act (see Appendix 1). It states that, collectively, board members must have knowledge and experience of:
- the charitable sector
- the law relating to charities
- charity accounts, the financing of charities and the operation and regulation of charities of different sizes and descriptions
2.5 At least two members must hold appropriate legal qualifications, and at least one must have knowledge of the conditions in Wales and be appointed following consultation with the National Assembly for Wales.
2.6 The Commission performs a number of quasi-judicial functions where it uses powers similar to those of the High Court. The Commission is vested with legal powers relating to:
- the registration of charities
- providing generic guidance and giving legal consent, eg making schemes and orders on charity matters
- taking action where there is or may be mismanagement in charities, eg powers to institute inquiries, remove or suspend trustees, appoint interim managers and protect charity property and/or other assets
2.7 As a modern regulator, the Commission applies the five principles approved by the Better Regulation Task Force, so that its work will be:
2.8 As a public body, the Commission’s approach to governance mirrors the seven principles of standards in public life (the ‘Nolan principles’). These are:
- Selflessness: holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or other friends.
- Integrity: holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
- Objectivity: in carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
- Accountability: holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
- Openness: holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
- Honesty: holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
- Leadership: holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
3. Statement of regulatory approach, mission and values
3.1 In 2014 the board published a revised statement of regulatory approach, mission and values as follows.
The Commission’s regulatory approach
The Commission’s statutory objectives, functions, powers and duties are set out in the Act. The Commission’s regulatory approach is designed to meet the expectations set out under the Act with excellence, and in accordance with the Commission’s resources.
The Commission considers that it can best fulfil all its statutory objectives,1 with the resources at its disposal, by concentrating on promoting compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations, by enhancing the rigour with which charities are held accountable, and by ensuring that the definition of charity under charity law is upheld. The Commission also believes that this is the best way for the Commission to promote public trust and confidence in charities, and thereby encourage charitable giving and endeavour in all its forms.
The Commission will not tolerate the misuse of any charity or its funds for unlawful or improper purposes. It will be alert in particular to fraud, terrorist activities, and abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries and will take decisive action where necessary. The Commission will be bold in using its statutory powers in the most serious cases.
The Commission will promote the accountability of charities to donors, beneficiaries and the general public by maintaining an accurate register and by publishing on the GOV.UK website accessible information about all charities registered and regulated by it. The Commission will highlight any charities where there are financial or regulatory concerns so that the public and donors can make informed decisions about whether to support specific charities.
The Commission will be a proactive regulator and will exploit its data fully to identify risk and to pursue potential abuse of charity. It will act where there is any significant risk to public trust and confidence.
The Commission will be an efficient, objective and proportionate authority that seeks to deliver just and reasonable outcomes. Whilst recognising the requirement to act within the law, it will support colleagues in making difficult and sometimes challenging decisions where the risks are justified.
The Commission will act robustly whenever it has reason to doubt the veracity of information provided to it, or where trustees are slow or unwilling to respond to its concerns. Where genuine mistakes by trustees do not have serious consequences, the Commission will work with those trustees to resolve matters and to get the charity in question back onto a secure footing.
The Commission will respect and protect charities’ independence. Under law, trustees must manage their own charities and provided they act within the law and under the terms of their governing document, trustees have broad discretion to act as they see fit, provided they act exclusively in the best interests of the charity and comply with their duties to act prudently, and the Commission cannot by law interfere.
The Commission will work closely with other government agencies and with umbrella bodies, setting joint objectives and strategies, while retaining its independence.
The Commission’s mission
The Commission’s mission is to be an effective registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales.
The Commission’s values
The Commission’s values underpin all that it does and governs its external and internal behaviour. They are:
Expertise. The Commission has a unique perspective of the sector as the regulator and are the only body that engages with every registered charity. This expertise, gained over many years, is core to the effective regulation that the public and charities alike rightly expect of it.
Fairness. The Commission must always act in an independent way with integrity and free from any bias, real or perceived.
Openness. The Commission is committed to act in an open and transparent way, promoting and sharing good practice. It will adopt new collaborative ways to achieve common goals.
Clarity and Speed. The Commission must ensure that all those who interact with it are clear about what they need to do and when. It will make decisions as swiftly as possible and explain its reasons fully.
Accountability. The Commission is fully accountable for the decisions it makes, the way in which it regulates and how it uses public funds. This mirrors the Commission’s increased expectations of accountability of charities.
4. Accountability, openness and transparency
4.1 The Commission demonstrates accountability to:
- the Commission’s annual report which is laid before Parliament by HM Treasury
- annual auditing of the Commission’s accounts by the National Audit Office (NAO)
- annual appearance before the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) on matters related to the regulation of charities and its performance in this regard
- periodic reports by the NAO on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Commission uses its resources
- periodic examinations by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). The chief executive acts as the accounting officer appointed by HM Treasury
- consideration of complaints about its administration by the Parliamentary Ombudsman
- the public, by publishing guidance, reports and key information about its activities and how it undertakes them
- the First-tier Tribunal (Charity), the Chamber of the Upper Tribunal and the High Court for the decisions made by the Commission in exercising its legal powers; the Tribunals and the High Court may overturn the Commission’s decisions
4.2 In addition, the Commission demonstrates its accountability by:
- reporting its performance against targets
- consulting before introducing major new policies or operational practices
- publishing information regarding the operation of the board
- holding an annual public meeting to review performance
- publishing inquiry reports, operational case reports and key decisions
- having an internal review process that allows the Commission’s decisions to be challenged without having to go to the Tribunal or the High Court and giving reasons for its decisions to those people affected by them, unless there are compelling reasons (of financial or personal confidentiality) for not doing so
- having a robust and accessible complaints process
- having a board member who acts as a whistleblowing champion
Openness and transparency
4.3 The Commission is committed to openness and transparency. Its core objective is to increase the public’s trust and confidence in charity; it acts in the public’s interest in the regulation of charities in England and Wales. Part of meeting this commitment to transparency is ensuring that, wherever possible, the Commission’s decisions, policies and practices are accessible to, and understandable by, the public.
4.4 The Commission approaches openness and transparency in many ways, including, where practicable: the publication of key papers and decisions, holding public meetings, undertaking public consultations on significant policy changes, and undertaking research to understand public and other key stakeholder perspectives.
4.5 In deciding whether information can be put into the public domain, the Commission will have regard to the following:
- will disclosure breach any obligation of the Commission to keep information confidential?
- will disclosure have an unfair impact on another person’s human rights?
- will disclosure cause injustice to any individual or group of persons?
- will disclosure impair the Commission in fulfilling its obligations as a public body?
4.6 The Commission will consider all requests for information applying the principles of Open Justice and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Commission will make information about its work accessible other than in circumstances where it is exempt from disclosure or not in the public interest to do so.
5. The board - constitution, conduct and meetings
5.1 Board members, including the chair, are appointed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, following fair and open competition. Each appointment is regulated and overseen by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The chair’s appointment is subject to a pre-appointment hearing before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.
5.2 The appointment of the Member for Wales is subject to consultation with the Welsh Ministers under the Act. Board members of the Commission are listed on our homepage.
5.3 Board members are required to act in the public interest, not to represent particular sectors or constituencies. Members of the Commission must, therefore, arrive at their own decisions without fear or favour.
5.4 The board has overall responsibility for all the Commission’s activities. It delegates to the chief executive and staff responsibility for many functions, within defined levels of delegated authority. The board reserves certain functions to itself and may revoke delegations it has previously made.
5.5 The main matters the board has reserved to itself are:
- ensuring that the Commission fulfils its statutory objectives, general functions and duties and appropriately exercises the legal powers vested in it, under the Act and other legislation
- determining the overall strategic direction of the Commission within resource limits
- monitoring the performance of the chief executive, the directors and staff, holding them to account for the exercise of their delegated powers and delivery against plans and budgets
- promoting and protecting the Commission’s values, integrity, and reputation
- ensuring high standards of governance that command the confidence of all of the Commission’s staff and stakeholders
5.6 In general terms, the functions delegated to the chief executive and staff are those which relate to the day-to-day management of the Commission’s business.
5.7 The difference between the functions described in points 5.5 and 5.6 is broadly similar to the distinction between non-executive and executive functions in other public bodies but the board is not obliged to observe that distinction in deciding what to reserve and what to delegate. It has the authority to intervene directly in operational matters, particularly those which affect the Commission’s reputation and performance.
5.8 For reasons of accountability and transparency, the board maintains a distinction between the exercise of delegated functions on the one hand and oversight and scrutiny of the way those delegated functions are carried out on the other. It should always be clear whether the board is exercising a function itself or overseeing the conduct of a function delegated to the chief executive and staff.
5.9 In fulfilling its responsibilities, the board pays particular attention to:
- maximising the impact and effectiveness of the Commission
- identifying and managing risks and harnessing opportunities
- listening and responding to stakeholders
- ensuring its independence
- ensuring the prudent use of public funds
- ensuring the Commission acts fairly, responsibly, transparently, proportionately and ethically
5.10 In exercising the general responsibilities set out above, the board members meet the following obligations.
5.11 The board acts collectively in making decisions.
5.12 The board expects the directors’ group to enable it to debate issues based on appropriate, accurate and timely information and advice.
5.13 The board seeks to achieve consensus on major decisions. However, where this is not possible, collective decisions will be based on a majority vote with the chair holding a casting vote.
5.14 The board has established clear levels of delegated authority within which:
- some decisions are reserved to the board
- the chief executive is empowered to make decisions and delegate authority to the directors’ group and staff for the day-to-day operation of the Commission
- the chief executive is required to escalate high risk and /or high impact issues for the timely attention and consideration of the board
5.15 The board has established operational guidance for the delegation of its powers to staff within the Commission; duly authorised they become ‘authorised officers’ in accordance with the Act.
5.16 The board sets the strategic direction for the efficient and effective management of the Commission’s funds and for the management and development of its staff.
5.17 The board establishes, where necessary, committees or working groups with clear terms of reference and membership to fulfil ongoing or time-limited governance functions. Formal reviews of legal decisions ‘decision reviews’ are delegated by the chair to individual board members, when such reviews are assessed as requiring board level involvement. The board may also establish informal working groups – eg to develop policy options on specific subjects at an early stage - at its own discretion.
5.18 The board regularly evaluates its own performance, examining its impact and effectiveness and any improvements required in its organisation or operation.
5.19 Members of the Commission will:
- act in good faith and in the corporate interest
- abide by this framework and observe the highest standards of propriety in fulfilling their responsibilities
- give proper time and attention to their duties and development
- use their specialist skills, knowledge and experience to inform collective decisions
- uphold and promote corporate decisions
- respect the respective roles of the board and directors’ group (see ‘relationship between the board and the directors’ group and Appendix 3: Levels of delegated authority)
- participate in an annual appraisal of their own performance with the chair
5.20 Board members will not use their position or misuse information gained in this role for personal, professional or private benefit of any kind or degree.
Registration and declaration of interests
5.21 Provisions for the registration and declaration of interests and withdrawal from meetings are intended to prevent members of the Commission from being influenced, or appearing to be influenced, by their private interests in the exercise of their duties.
Board members will:
- seek advice from the chair and the board secretary (or in the case of the chair, from the chief executive and the board secretary)
- maintain an accurate and comprehensive entry on the register of interests, which must be updated immediately when circumstances change and reviewed at least annually
- declare any interests at the start of a board meeting if they have a personal, business or pecuniary interest in an issue on the agenda
- withdraw from discussions/the decision-making as appropriate/when required
5.22 Board members will uphold the civil service code on gifts and hospitality. In particular, they must never accept gifts in cash or kind, or any other kind of benefit for either doing or not doing something, other than in the circumstances set out in 5.20, including where there is a risk that accepting a gift could be reasonably perceived as influencing the impartiality of decision making.
5.23 Board members may give or accept isolated, trivial or seasonal gifts, working lunches etc ie - offers of conventional hospitality - provided that they are considered reasonable in the circumstances and that they do not exceed a cash value of £50.00.
5.24 All gifts and hospitality, offered and received, must be declared on the Commission’s hospitality register, whether accepted or not.
Remuneration and expenses
5.25 Members of the Commission may only seek remuneration and reimbursement of reasonable expenses solely where payment of these reflects the exercise of their agreed duties and in accordance with the Commission’s and government policy. All expenses incurred by board members and the chief executive are published quarterly on the GOV.UK website.
5.26 In addition to the requirements of the Official Secrets Act, members of the Commission are required to maintain confidentiality at all times, taking particular note that much of the more sensitive information that they become privy to on the Commission’s business will be required to be kept confidential by law (eg personnel issues relating to the Commission’s employees, classified material etc).
5.27 In undertaking public engagements not associated with the Commission, members will ensure that it is clear that they are speaking in a personal or private capacity and take care that what they say does not compromise or conflict with their role as members of the Commission or the Commission’s corporate position on any issue.
5.28 The chair is responsible for bringing any breaches of this framework, or the obligations of board members generally, to the attention of that individual board member. Any board members failing to adhere to these principles, or being unfit to perform their duties in line with these principles, may be judged as failing to carry out the duties of office. Such failure may result in removal from that office.
5.29 The board meets formally at least six times a year and, in addition, hosts an annual public meeting (APM) to discuss publicly the past year’s performance and look ahead to future priorities. The APM must, in line with the Act, be held within three months of the Commission laying its accounts and annual report before Parliament. The Commission also holds at least two other public meetings each year, around a specific theme or issue, in different parts of England and Wales. At these, members of the public have the opportunity to discuss and comment on the theme of the event and any other aspect of the Commission’s activities.
5.30 The conduct of formal board meetings is determined by the board and is set out in Appendix 4: Standing orders for board and committee meetings.
Establishment of committees
5.31 The board is currently supported by the following committees:
- audit and risk committee
- governance and remuneration committee
- public interest litigation and high risk cases committee
- policy and guidance committee
- transform programme oversight committee
6. Role of the chair
6.1 The chair leads and ensures the effective operation of the board and its sub-committees. The chair is also responsible for:
leading development of the Commission’s strategy
ensuring that the Commission fulfils its statutory objectives, general functions and duties and appropriately exercises its legal powers
setting the board’s agenda, focusing primarily on strategy, performance, accountability and risk
setting the tone of board discussions to promote constructive debate and effective decision making
ensuring that board members operate in accordance with governance best practice and the Nolan principles of standards in public life
keeping the composition of the board under review and making timely recommendations to the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the appointment of new members and reappointment of existing members
with board members, establishing, monitoring and reviewing governance structures, systems and processes
developing the Commission’s key relationships with government, sector bodies and other major stakeholders
jointly with the chief executive, communicating the Commission’s strategy, plans and achievements to stakeholders, including charities and their users, the Commission’s staff, the government and the public
supporting and performance managing the chief executive, including agreeing objectives and undertaking an annual appraisal, following consultation with other board members
establishing a good relationship with the chief executive and directors, providing advice and support while respecting their responsibilities, including the responsibilities of the chief executive as accounting officer
jointly with the chief executive, promoting effective relationships and communications between board members and the directors and other members of staff
7. Role of the chief executive and directors’ group
7.1 The chief executive is accountable to the board for the conduct and performance of delegated functions. The chief executive is the Commission’s accounting officer, reporting to the Public Accounts Committee on the Commission’s use of public funds and with personal accountability and responsibility for the Commission’s propriety and regularity, prudent and economical administration, avoidance of waste and extravagance, and efficient and effective use of available resources. The full responsibilities of the accounting officer are set out in the HM Treasury publication ‘Managing public money’, which includes provision for the accounting officer to seek a direction from the board, in the unlikely event of an irreconcilable difference of opinion on an important financial matter.
The chief executive is also responsible for:
fulfilling the Commission’s statutory objectives, general functions and duties and exercise of its legal powers
developing plans, programmes and policies for board approval
realising the board’s strategies and plans for the future, including its contribution to legislative reform
delivering the Commission’s services in line with targets and performance indicators agreed by the board
acquiring the resources and putting in place the organisational structures and business processes the Commission requires to achieve its objectives
developing and maintaining an effective framework of internal controls, including risk management in relation to all the Commission’s activities
leading the directors’ group, including the development of personal objectives and targets
- ensuring that the directors’ group:
- acts within the levels of authority delegated by the board
- maintains an effective relationship with members of the board
- supports the board in fulfilling its responsibilities, including through the provision of accurate and timely information
ensuring that robust management succession and development plans are in place and presented to the board from time to time
supporting the chair in developing the Commission’s relationships with government, sector bodies and other key stakeholders
jointly with the chair, communicating the Commission’s strategy, plans and achievements to stakeholders, including charities and their users, the Commission’s staff, the government and the public
establishing a relationship of trust with the chair, reporting key developments to him in a timely manner and seeking advice and support as appropriate
keeping the chair and board promptly informed on all matters that may be of importance to them
- jointly with the chair, promoting effective relationships and communications between board members and the directors and other members of staff
Directors’ group (DG)
Chief operating officer
Director of corporate services
Director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement
Director of legal services
Director of policy and communications
7.2 The DG will:
- ensure that they possess or have access to all the skills and knowledge required to fulfil the Commission’s regulatory role, exercise its legal powers and ensure delivery against agreed plans
- manage the Commission within the agreed levels of delegated authority
- ensure board members are provided with accurate and timely information to enable them to fulfil their governance responsibilities effectively
- present an analysis of key risks and the strategy for risk management and update the risk framework on a regular basis for board approval; in addition they will escalate high risk or high impact issues to the board in accordance with the agreed risk management strategy - this will include issues or cases where there is potential for:
- major investment
- significant deviation from agreed strategy/plans
- novelty or precedent setting eg an issue becoming a ‘test case’
- complex litigation
- significant degree of controversy/contentiousness or political sensitivity
- damage to the charity or the Commission’s reputation or to public trust and confidence eg adverse events, negative media interest
- damage to key relationships eg issues raised by Office for Civil Society, concerns raised by key constituencies
- personal impact on members of the Commission
- proactively raise issues/themes that may need to be debated/considered for incorporation into future plans
- ensure effective stewardship of public resources; use formal and informal mechanisms to enable board members to contribute their specialist skills, knowledge and expertise and provide support
- lead on developing plans, programmes and policies for board approval
- seek the input of board members at an early stage in order to identify issues that will need to be addressed in gaining board approval
- maintain a dialogue to understand board members’ concerns and perspectives
- take responsibility for making clear proposals and recommendations to the board
- provide appropriate support to enable the activities of the board and individual board members of the Commission to run properly and effectively
- ensure the sense of connection and common purpose with the board is maintained within the DG and, through it, with the rest of the organisation
8. Relationship between the board and the DG
8.1 The board and the DG will work together in a way that:
- demonstrates mutual respect
- draws on their respective skills, knowledge and perspectives
- ensures that the Commission’s policies, plans and strategies are implemented throughout the organisation through effective communication and the translation of board decisions into more detailed department plans and working methods
- ensures sharing of information about the Commission and the context in which it operates
- recognises the clear separation between governance and management roles and responsibilities
- enables an active and ongoing dialogue about the Commission’s current performance and future direction
- identifies opportunities and risks, maximises performance and enables learning and development
8.2 Board members will:
- establish, monitor and review levels of delegated authority (See Appendix 3: Levels of delegated authority)
- approve a risk management strategy that ensures high risk and/or high impact issues are identified and escalated to the board
- support and empower the DG to manage the Commission within these delegated levels of authority and in accordance with the agreed risk management strategy
- establish systems for monitoring performance and holding the DG to account
- use their specialist skills, knowledge and experience to:
- proactively raise issues/themes for consideration by the DG
- act as a sounding board
- offer constructive challenge and support
- hold the DG to account
- inform collective decision making
- establish formal and informal mechanisms to enable board members to contribute their specialist skills, knowledge and expertise and provide support to the DG
- establish systems for reviewing and developing the effectiveness of the board and members of the Commission
- make collective decisions and stand by them
8.3 The DG will:
- manage the Commission within the agreed levels of delegated authority
- ensure board members are provided with accurate and timely information to enable them to fulfil their governance responsibilities effectively
- present an analysis of key risks and risk management strategy on a regular basis for the board’s approval; in addition, any high risk or high impact issues will be escalated to the board in accordance with the agreed risk management strategy - this will include the high risk issues identified at 7.2
- bring forward emerging strategic issues/themes early enough for the board to provide an over-arching steer to the development of those policies
- ensure that board members’ specialist skills, knowledge and expertise are utilised fully in support of the Commission’s work
- develop plans, programmes and policies for board approval, seeking the input of board members at an early stage in order to identify issues that will need to be addressed in gaining board approval
- ensure that it remains in open dialogue with the board so it both understands board members’ concerns/perspectives and the board is aware of the context of the DG’s position
- take responsibility for making clear proposals and recommendations
- provide appropriate support to enable the activities of the board and individual board members to run properly and effectively
8.4 Board members with a legal qualification will:
- use their specialist skills, knowledge and experience as set out in 8.2
- play a lead role in the consideration of high risk or high impact legal issues; board members with a legal qualification will not normally play a role in the day to day legal issues of the Commission
8.5 The chair will:
- lead in ensuring that board members comply with the terms of their appointment and the spirit and letter of this framework
- represent the collective view and decisions of the board and act as a conduit between board members, chief executive and the DG
- work with the chief executive in leading the organisation’s relationships and communication with key stakeholders
- exercise a degree of autonomy in taking urgent decisions, in consultation with the chief executive, where it is not practical to consult with board members, subject to keeping them informed
8.6 The chief executive will:
- lead in ensuring the directors comply with the spirit and letter of this framework
- act as a conduit between the DG and the board, primarily through the chair
- work with the chair in leading the organisation’s relationships and communication with key stakeholders
The five objectives are:
The public confidence objective – to increase public trust and confidence in charities.
The public benefit objective – to promote awareness and understanding of the operation of the public benefit requirement.
The compliance objective – to promote compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of the administration of their charities.
The charitable resources objective – to promote the effective use of charitable resources.
The accountability objective – to enhance the accountability of charities to donors, beneficiaries and the general public. ↩