Friday, 7 July 2017

Report on the recent Charity Commission event in Cardiff

On Thursday the 29th of June, the Charity Commission held an event at Cardiff City Stadium to inform charity trustees and charity advisers about recent changes and future developments in relation to how the Commission handles its business.

Given the recent election debates and press coverage concerning the impact of austerity on public services, the event highlighted some interesting facts in regard to the consequences of the funding squeeze for both the Commission and the sector that it both regulates and seeks to support.

The headline grabbing figure is the depth of the cut in funding for the Commission, which has taken a 50% hit, down from £40m a year to £20m. The Commission currently regulates 172,000 charities, with a further 5,000 requests for registration being received every year. In all some 700,000 trustees sit on the governing bodies of registered charities. The workload of staff requires them to deal with 130,000 enquiries per year - something like 6,500 responses being made every month by a workforce totalling 300 staff across all the divisions within the Commission.

To cushion such a draconian cut in funding, the Commission was able to secure a one off payment of £8m, which was earmarked for a programme of transformation designed to make the regulatory function of the Commission much more user friendly and simple. As David Holdsworth (Head of Operations at the Charity Commission) was at pains to point out, the aim was to bring a much more 'service provision' orientation to the Commission, placing the user at the heart of the service and recognising that, 'Regulation works best if it is easy and straightforward to comply'.

David Holdworth talks transformation

In practice this means that before long Charities will be able to comply with all their regulatory requirements on line through a new Commission portal that will set up a specific 'self service' user area for each charity. When logged into their area, as well as statutory returns and accounts, nominated trustees or agents will be able to manage trustee details, submit amendments to governing documents or request name changes to charities. A progress tracker will monitor progress towards compliance and there will also be suggestions of guidance tailored to the area of benefit of the charity.

As well as high tech innovations, the Commission is also overhauling its guidance and simplifying the way it is presented - a process described by Nick Mott (Head of Policy Development, Guidance and Review) as a Dip - Swim - Dive approach - where Dip relates to info-graphics / information sheets, Swim to more in depth guidance based on case work and Dive to weigthy tomes of legal analysis.

It is hoped that the benefits of the new services will be a speeding up in the turn around of actions. As a result of changes already unveiled, the time taken to enroll a charity has already gone down from on average 90 days to 45, and the amount of direct communication required with applicants has fallen by 23%.

To take name changes as another example - the Commission receives on average 2,500 requests to change or amend names of charities each year - a process that usually takes 33 days to effect (presumably to allow time for the reading of the current 133 pages of guidance notes on this topic!). Under the new automated system, providing the name is acceptable and not already used by another charity, the name change can be approved in 24hrs!

Whilst the Commission hopes to make productivity savings from the transformation process, it is also looking at ways of boosting the funding it receives, which may well result in the introduction of fees to charities. At present, thinking envisages fees only being charged on charities with income in excess of £100,000, and there would be a graduated scale of fees against income, ranging from £75 to £1,750. As yet the charging of fees is only under initial discussion with Government, and will be subject to a full consultation with the sector.

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