UK Charity Commission Chair Baroness Stowell warns charities not to generate controversy and division

Baroness Stowell has given a speech reflecting on her three year tenure as Chair of the Charity Commission – she retires from the role later this month. She used the speech to warn against charities being used as “a front on which to wage war against political enemies” and advised that charities “shouldn’t go out of their way to divide people”.

The speech builds on statements made by Baroness Stowell in November last year, saying that charities should not pick sides on issues that cause divisions in society such as Brexit, free speech and how best to tell the story of Britain. It is thought that she was referring to the decision of the National Trust to report on links that its properties have with slavery and guidance published by Barnados encouraging parents to teach their children about white privilege, both of which gained media attention. At the time the Commission wrote to the National Trust “to understand how the trustees consider its report helps further the charity’s specific purpose to preserve places of beauty or historic interest”.

In the recent speech, Baroness Stowell said it is the role of a responsible regulator to listen to people who object to the “politicisation of their favourite charities”. Charity Commission guidance does however reflect charity law which permits campaigning and political activity by charities where that is done in the context of supporting the delivery of relevant charitable purposes.

Baroness Stowell also repeated calls that the Commission should have greater power and freedom to remove charities from the register, so that it does not operate as “a private members’ club”.

A new interim Chair of the Charity Commission will be announced soon with a permanent replacement some way off. It will be interesting to see how the Charity Commission’s regulatory position develops under new leadership.

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