Time’s up for the Charity Commission as we know it. But I’m just a donor so what do I know.

Amidst the balderdash, bureaucracy and blocking that passes for government these days, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and its Chair, Margaret Hodge MP, have become something of the nation’s conscience.

This week Margaret Hodge is reported by Third Sector magazine as suggesting the Charity Commission could be scrapped.  At the very least she has said the regulator is not fit-for-purpose.

This follows an utterly damning report by the National Audit Office which said the Commission is failing to regulate charities properly . Which means it’s failing to provide the main service for which it is given £23 Million of taxpayers money every year.

Having had experience of shutting down a renegade charity, I tend to agree with Margaret Hodge.

The sight of thousands of unopened donor letters piled from floor to ceiling in an empty office, the supercomputer in the corner with its flashing LCD lights and screens churning out lists of names for direct mailing, the threatening and aggressive way in which its founders stoutly defended their despicable operation.  This is not made up I assure you.

Then there was the Charity Commission: slow, unresponsive, reluctant to advise.  There were times when it felt as though they were not sure whose behalf they were acting.  More often than not it felt like they were protecting themselves.

That was ten years ago. Too late to be of any relevance you might say. You might very well be right.

However, they said the same sort of things then in response to criticism as they have this week: they have a new strategy; they are putting things right; they have insufficient money and; need more time.  It’s an old tune which wears thin on the ears.  So I have little belief that they will ‘up their game’ .

Fact is it’s pretty easy to set-up a charity.  It’s very difficult to do something about the ones that go off the rails.  Unfortunately the Commission has become part of the problem rather than the solution.  It doesn’t think like a regulator, more like the civil service of old.  And worryingly, as an organisation, it has gone awol in the eyes of policy-makers, stakeholders and perhaps members of the public who come into contact with it.

I do understand why many charity commentators and thought-leaders have been less blunt than Margaret Hodge in their criticism of the Commission.  But I don’t agree with them.  Nor do I agree with the argument that it has a lot on its plate the pressure is on to deliver it with less money.  That may very well be an argument for re-focusing the Commission on one or two key tasks and hiving the others off to those who are better equipped to do them.  There is nothing to say they might not do a better job either.

But these days I am just a donor, so what do I know.

2 thoughts on “Time’s up for the Charity Commission as we know it. But I’m just a donor so what do I know.

  1. Simon – As you know I have recently become Chair of Nottingham and District Citizens Advice Bureau.

    Each Bureau is a local charity. We do not receive any direct government funding. Increasingly much of our work is on a commissioned basis and we are pitched against many other providers. We rely on volunteers and have paid staff.

    The majority of charities do great work. They involve the people whom they want to help in vision, thinking and decision making. They work ‘with’ people not ‘for’ people. They build around them communities of supporters who share the ambition rather than just send them newsletters.

    I have been really pleased to see that Cancer Research UK has most recently been taking positive action to involve and engage people.

    My advice is simple. Take a good look at any charity and find out about how it works with the public, how it spends its money and how it involves those who benefit from its work.


    • Well said Derek. We all need to take personal responsibility as donors and be sure that our money is being well spent by asking the right questions.

      But that doesn’t absolve the Charity Commission of its responsibilities. The case I was involved in, first came to everyone’s attention as a result of worried donors. Their concerns were only really acted upon when other well-run charities in the same field began to make a song and dance about it.

      A question I haven’t asked is: how does the Charity Commission involve people in its decision-making in the way that we now see the HRA doing?


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