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Commission may tell donors not to give to late filers

The Charity Commission is considering telling the public not to donate to charities that fail to file their accounts on time.

The proportion of charities that do file on time rose steadily until about three years ago, but has since plateaued at just over four in five. The Commission is keen to shift the needle on the problem and is examining ways to achieve a step-change in filing compliance in the sector.

Sarah Atkinson, head of information and communications at the Commission, said that charities’ compliance and accountability is a strategic priority for the regulator.

She said it supported Lord Hodgson’s suggestion in his Charities Act review last year that charities that fail to file on time should be denied gift aid, but the Commission may go a step further, too: “We are also considering whether to actively advise the public not to give to charities that fail to file on time.”

Atkinson told civilsociety.co.uk that the red boxes on the online Register of Charities have been operating for a few years now, and have had an effect, but new impetus is needed.

“We have been reflecting for a while now on what else we can do to really focus charities’ attention on this.

“We have often said, in direct engagement with grantmakers, including other government departments, that they should check [before giving a grant] and if a charity hasn’t filed on time then that signals a concern about basic governance.

“If you can’t file your accounts on time then you are not paying attention to the basics about how the public expects charities to operate.

“A charity that does not file on time, that has not got its proper paperwork in place, is not one you can trust with your money.”

Naming and shaming

Any public exhortation to withhold donations from late filers would probably take the form of messages on charities’ entries on the online register, generic warnings attached to other Commission communications, and partnerships with fundraising bodies, Atkinson said.

But she did not rule out naming and shaming specific charities. “We’ve not been afraid of identifying specific charities in the past – people can identify them on the Register anyway through the red border.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of work this year around how we can use the Register to make it easier for people to access information about charities, and I expect this will form part of that.

“William [Shawcross, Commission chair] thinks this is very important. He is very keen to look at what more we can do to give people very clear messages about whether charities are doing what they should be doing, or not.

“The sector can expect to see some changes this year in how charities that are not meeting their requirements are being identified.”

New board still not in place

However, Atkinson admitted that the Commission could not put a new policy in place on the issue before its new board is appointed. The new members should have started in post on 1 April but more than three weeks later, the Cabinet Office has still not yet announced who they are.

This article was taken from Civil Society – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/finance/news/content/14954/