Official warnings by the Commission

Part of Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 15 Rhagfyr 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 9:30, 15 Rhagfyr 2015

I totally agree. That is the purpose of the amendment. There is a lack of clarity around “reasonable time”. Not only is that pretty indefinite, but it puts the onus back on staff at the Charity Commission, which could place an undue burden on them and leave open to interpretation what the definition of a reasonable time could be. That is why it is important to have a timeframe in the Bill.

Without a timeframe, there might be no opportunity for a charity to prepare a defence or to correct an unconscious mistake, which could be the cause of the warning, or to let trustees know. We might end up in a ridiculous situation in which they could read about a warning for their charity in a newspaper or a sector magazine because, as the Bill is drafted, the Charity Commission can publish the warning. Such a warning, especially if published, could have a substantial impact on a charity’s ability to raise funds and might have significant reputational damage.

It may be felt that a prescribed period of notice is not necessary because the Charity Commission will act reasonably and proportionately. I do not doubt that will always be its intention; I know that the Charity Commission does an extremely good job in difficult circumstances, often with many resource pressures. However, recent experience shows that is not always the case. In a recent High Court case involving the commission and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Lord Chief Justice referred to “ludicrous time limits” imposed by the commission. He also said that he could understand why it was felt that the Charity Commission had behaved in an extremely high-handed manner in that case, and suggested that there should have been

“an awful lot more time spent at the beginning talking, as people normally do, and not issuing ultimatums”.

There is therefore a real danger that the commission, if allowed scope to use this new power in a disproportionate way, may well do so, however well meaning its intentions.

If the power is intended to be used only for low-level matters, a minimum notice period of 14 days is entirely appropriate. It is not clear why there should be any objection to that. For more serious matters where the commission is able to take more extensive regulatory action, it will be able to use its other powers without notice. That is the existing situation. The Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill recommended that a reasonable minimum notice period to make representations over a draft warning should be clear in the Bill. That safeguard has not been included and the amendment seeks to rectify that.

Moreover, it was clear, even from the Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report, that a recipient should have an opportunity to make representations on a proposed warning and for these to be considered by the commission before the warning is published. There is no minimum notice period, and it is possible that a recipient will not have a meaningful opportunity to make representations. We know that there have been many situations in which advice and support given by the commission can be challenged and are open to interpretation by the charity.