Lord Hope, Chairman of the Committee said:
“It is vital to ensure the public have confidence in the regulation of the charity sector if they are going to continue the British tradition of generous charitable giving. We think the draft Bill can contribute to that.
Much of what is proposed, including extending the scope of offences that would disqualify someone from being a charity trustee to include money laundering and terrorism offences, is designed simply to close loopholes. Everyone we heard from agreed that these needed to be addressed. But there are areas where it can be improved further before the Government introduces a Bill in the new Parliament.”
The Committee supports the proposal to introduce a power for the Commission to issue a statutory warning to a charity as a useful tool that falls in between issuing guidance and the opening of an inquiry.
The statutory warning process should include safeguards on the face of the Bill including limiting the circumstances in which a warning could be issued, a requirement on the Commission to issue written notice of a warning to a charity and a reasonable time period for a charity to respond before the warning is formally issued and published.
The Committee supports the proposals to extend the list of offences for which conviction would automatically disqualify a person from acting as a charity trustee. These offences include terrorism, money laundering and perjury.
The Committee heard concerns that the new offences might restrict the important rehabilitation opportunities for offenders which charity trusteeship can offer. The Committee asks the Commission to do more to promote understanding of the availability of waivers and simplify wherever possible the waiver application and decision-making process.
There is also a lack of clarity over the effect of cautions, rather than convictions, for disqualifying offences which the Committee calls on the Government to address.
The Committee does not support the inclusion of overseas convictions for equivalent offences as drafted and calls on the Government to do further work to explore whether instead it could apply the regime proposed for disqualifying directors in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.
Beyond the Bill
In addition to the clauses set out in the Bill the report also addresses an important issue which witnesses from the charity sector raised in evidence. The Committee highlights the problems anti-terrorism legislation causes for charities working in conflict zones. The ban on UK charities giving ‘indirect support’ to proscribed organisations anywhere in the world makes it very difficult for them to get access to and provide humanitarian assistance in places such as Syria and areas of Africa controlled by Boko Haram. Charities working in these areas claimed the legislation had a ‘chilling effect’ on their work with victims of conflict, who were often the people in most dire need.
The Committee calls for the Government to consider adopting the approach taken by Australia or New Zealand where exceptions to similar legislation are made where the charity is providing humanitarian relief. It also says the Director of Public Prosecutions should provide guidance to charities about the circumstances where a prosecution under terrorism legislation might occur.
Image: Charity Commission