Perhaps it's taken the Covid crisis and a recent refusal to extend last Spring's £750 million support package to the charity sector finally to get the Government to respond to the wide-ranging and sensible suggested reforms to charity law proposed by the Law Commission as long ago as September 2017.
By my calculation the Government is accepting 37.5 of the Commission's 43 recommendations. The Minister for Civil Society acknowledges that "together they will make it simpler and easier for charities to respond to opportunities to achieve their charitable purposes in an effective, sustainable and impactful way" (and, presumably, because they won't cost the Government significant additional money to implement).
Key accepted recommendations, to be introduced into law when Parliamentary time allows, include:
- making it easier for charities to update their purposes, regardless of their structure;
- striking a fair balance between protecting donors' wishes and the administrative burden of contacting donors to offer a refund where fundraising appeals raise too much, or too little money, to achieve the appeal's aims;
- streamlining and simplifying the law governing how charities dispose of land, in particular by extending the range of specialist advisers in relation to land transactions and streamlining the content of expert reports on transactions;
- giving the Charity Commission power to remunerate trustees where they have done work for the charity and it would be inequitable for the trustees not to receive remuneration for that work (or not to retain the benefit received in connection with it);
- giving charities the power - without prior authorisation from the Charity Commission - to make relatively small ex gratia payments which their trustees feel morally obliged to make, typically during the administration of wills, the limits to which would depend on the size of the charity;
- strengthening the application of the register of charity mergers and so avoiding the need in some circumstances for keeping "shell charities" on the register of charities in order to safeguard future legacies.
Among the handful of recommendations the Government has not accepted are the following:
- the proposed removal of the requirement to give public notice of and to invite views on the disposal of designated land (because the Government considers that removing this requirement would create a risk of trustees disposing of charitable community assets without a complete understanding of its implications, including the impact on beneficiaries and the local community); and
- any review of the basis on which decisions of the Charity Commission can be challenged, in particular to the Charity Tribunal (because the Government considers the range of reviewable/ appealable decisions was carefully considered at the time it was determined, over 15 years ago).
The charity sector has been asking for the Government to act upon the Law Commission's recommendations for years and bringing the vast majority of them into law should make life easier for the operation of many charities in the long term.
It would also be great if the Government now dusted off equally sensible (and low-cost) Charity Tax Commission proposals made in July 2019 to reform charity tax, which to date have been ignored: CharityCommissionReport__ForWebTwoColumns.pdf (ncvo.org.uk)
Documents Government response to the Law Commission report ‘Technical Issues in Charity Law’ HTML Details This document sets out the government’s response to the Law Commission’s report on Technical Issues in Charity Law. The government has accepted the majority of the Law Commission’s recommendations. The proposed reforms will make charity regulation more effective and make the legal framework easier to navigate. This will enable charities to use their money and resources more effectively to promote their charitable causes.