This month the Charity Commission has made three important announcements on the approach it takes to its role as a regulator. They demonstrate a shift in emphasis for the Charity Commission following a year where charity behaviour and regulation has been particularly in the spotlight.
The first key announcement is the Charity Commission’s response on 1 October to the NCVO’s draft Charity Code of Ethics, originally published in July for consultation. The NCVO Code of Ethics was published in light of a number of reported failings by charities to properly safeguard beneficiaries and staff, which led to the Charity Commission setting up a taskforce.
The Charity Commission provides some technical criticism of the code's scope but welcomes the voluntary Code in principle as an opportunity to promote higher standards than regulators can expect or require. It reflects on its own research, noting the importance of ethical behaviour by charities as a key element of trustworthiness, in supporting the sector-led initiative.
The second key announcement is the Charity Commission’s ‘Statement of Strategic Intent’ 2018 - 2023, published on 4 October, which builds on the importance of charities’ ‘trustworthiness’ and the Commission’s role in sustaining confidence in the sector. The statement places itself in the context of the reports of failings which led to the creation of a safeguarding taskforce and a wider public scepticism of institutions, reflected in the Commission’s lowest recording of ‘public trust and confidence’ in charities since its annual monitoring began.
It also echoes the recommendations of the draft Code of Ethics by saying, with emphasis added, that: making sure that charities live up to their purpose and the high expectations of the public is about more than just compliance with the minimum legal requirements: it means being accountable for the privilege of charitable status and the stewardship of charitable resources. The Commission moves from that sentiment to identify itself as more than just a Regulator for legal compliance; as a leader and an authority that will use its voice more strongly to encourage the behaviour that people expect of charities.
The third key announcement is Baroness Stowell’s speech to the RSA, also delivered on 4 October, explaining the new approach being taken and showing her own ‘personal conviction’ on the role of the regulator. The emphasis is again on going beyond just what the law requires to consider more broadly what the public might expect from a charity. It involves a more holistic approach to what Baroness Stowell identifies as ‘uncharitable’ behaviour and it involves the regulator and the sector thinking beyond legal structures and activities.