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New public benefit guidance online format is confusing, say critics

Several respondents to the live blog attached to the Charity Commission’s new draft public benefit guidance have condemned it for being too confusing and tricky to navigate.

The online guidance, which was published for consultation at the end of last month, appears as numerous sections connected by links, in a deliberate attempt by the regulator to answer critics of the original guidance who said it was too long and wordy.

But law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite, which has today published its response to the consultation, has criticised the formatting, saying it is hard to follow.  And others on the live feedback blog agree.

In summary, BWB's Rosamund McCarthy (pictured) said the new guidance “strikes a good balance and reflects the principles decided by the Tribunal in the Independent Schools Council case”.

But she added: “Overall, we are concerned that the new approach with the online format is somewhat hard to follow and there may be some trustees who would prefer the option of a single document that can be printed out and referred to regularly.”

John Butler, writing on the live blog, agreed: “I regret to say that I found the online guidance very confusing.  I can see what is being tried and I applaud the effort. But I don’t think it works.”

Peter Stewart went further: “I agree with John Butler that, to put it bluntly, the online layout is hopeless.  The links can take you in circles, or meandering aimlessly around the site, or out of the guidance entirely.”

And Kevin Trickett added: “I agree it is difficult to navigate…I’m not sure whether I’ve seen it all.  A single PDF version would be welcome!”

Read BWB’s full response to the consultation here.

The Charity Commission said it welcomed the feedback, and added: "We welcome charities' comments about the content and format of the draft guidance. We're glad the live blog is helping people tell us how they get on with the guidance.

"The reason we are trialling a new web based approach to guidance, is that we want to encourage trustees to use our guidance as a working tool, rather than a static document that they may print out once and perhaps then file away. Our new 'modular' format also addresses comments that some trustees have found our previous guidance (contained in a single document) too long and off-putting to read and that they not want to have to read guidance that is not relevant for their charity. We want to make it easier for trustees to quickly find relevant sections of the guidance, as and when they need it, and to only link to more detailed guidance where it is relevant for them.

"We will of course take users' comment on board and will consider how best to present the guidance in light of responses to the consultation. We have asked blog visitors,  for instance, to suggest ways in which they would like to see us improve navigation. 

"We have provided trustees with a full list of all the sections of our public benefit guidance, so that they can see at a glance what it consists of and link straight to whichever section they are interested in. We have also produced a summary document, which trustees can print off as a single document to help familiarise themselves with the key points in each section."

ISC ‘not commenting yet’

Meanwhile, the Independent Schools Council says it is still considering the draft guidance, and says it will issue a full response in due course.

The ISC had contended the Commission’s first attempt at guidance was too focused on bursaries and did not give enough weight to all the other charitable work carried out by public schools.
The new version contains “illustrative examples” of ways in which charities that charge high fees might provide for the poor.

Under the section for schools, examples include collaborating with state schools and sponsoring academies; letting state schools use their facilities such as swimming pools and concert halls; seconding teachers to state schools, and allowing state school pupils to attend certain lessons or events.

Other examples are partnering with overseas schools to fund the education of children from poor families; helping state schools to improve the quality of teaching, and arranging “cultural exchange visits” with state school pupils.

Asked whether the new guidance met its expectations, the ISC said it did not wish to comment until it had fully considered the guidance.T

This article was taken from www.civilsociety.co.uk – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/12927