22 October 2019 - Article
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 ('FOIA') established a statutory right for members of the public to request certain information from public authorities. The FOIA was not designed to allow the public to interrogate information held by charities specifically, although there are a number of charities who are also public authorities and are covered by the Act.
In 2015, following the charity fundraising scandal and the collapse of Kids Company, an independent commission set up by the Cabinet Office was encouraged to consider the possible extension of the FOIA to include public access to information from charities. This was met with some press attention and debate on the best way to achieve transparency in the sector and pre-empt future scandals. In March 2016, however, the commission tasked with reviewing the scope of the FOIA decided it 'had not received persuasive evidence that the Act should be extended to charities in their own right'.
This year has again seen several high-profile news stories which have risked knocking public confidence in charities. Some MPs remain sceptical about the levels of transparency in charities and their operations. This was shown by a revealing survey in 2017, carried out by research consultancy nfpSynergy, which revealed the majority of MPs still expect the charity sector to improve its standard of transparency.
Yet despite this current climate the government has now reiterated that the FOIA request procedure will not be extended to include all charities. In March Baroness Stedman-Scott, responding to a written question on the status of the government's 'constant review' of the issue, said 'the Government is not persuaded of the need to amend the legislation to include all charities and there are no plans to undertake further consultations at this time.'
Therefore, whilst charities might well expect increased regulation in light of recent stories, such as a statutory serious incident reporting requirement as recently suggested by the Charity Commission, they can take some comfort in knowing that they will not also be expected to meet the demands of FOIA in the immediate future.