Third Sector (£) reports that the Charity Commission for England and Wales is considering asking charities to provide information in their annual returns about any religious objects they have.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) had tabled a Written Question to Rob Wilson, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Minister for Charities and Paula Sussex, Chief Executive of the Commission, was asked to reply. She did so as follows:
“The Charities Act 2011 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within the 13 descriptions of purposes and is also for the public benefit. Charities will often have more than one of these purposes. Charities with purposes that include, but are not limited to, the advancement of religion make up around one fifth of those registered with the Charity Commission. In terms of the data we hold about charities, the advancement of religion is not broken down further by a particular faith and does not identify multi faith purposes or no particular faith at all. To assist in our analysis work, we are considering asking charities in the next annual return consultation for a further breakdown.
This year, for the first time, the Commission analysed charities that were subject to a statutory inquiry or an operational compliance case broken down according to the information the charity submitted in their annual returns and as recorded on the register of charities. This includes breakdowns by purpose classification (including advancement of religion), beneficiary group, date of registration and last recorded income. To determine the particular faith of those charities who classified themselves as religious we used the charities’ objects.
Our analysis was published in Tackling Abuse and Mismanagement, the Commission’s annual report of our investigations and compliance casework, in December last year. In relation to statutory inquiries, in 2013-14, of the 201 inquiries open 23 (11%) featured charities undertaking religious activities. A breakdown by faith is provided below.
A copy of Tackling Abuse and Mismanagement has been placed in the House of Commons Library for your information.
The Commission intends to keep analysing the data going forward including for any areas of potential over or underrepresentation, compared to the overall breakdown of the register of charities” [emphasis added].
Third Sector reports that, when asked what information charities might be asked to provide, a spokeswoman for the Commission said that the information in Paula Sussex’s response was taken from the annexe of Tackling Abuse and Mismanagement. She said that the Commission’s thinking on the matter was at an early stage; and it needed to assess whether it was something that would be feasible for the next annual return in 2016 before going any further.
“If we were to make changes to the classification of charities, we would want to consult on them. This would feed into a wider review of the way in which we collect and display information from charities and the systems used to do that.”
|Further breakdown of charities with religious activities classification||Number of charities placed under inquiry||Figure as a percentage of the number of charities under inquiry with religious classifications||Figure as a percentage of the total number of charities under inquiry|
The statistics presumably relate to registered charities only. A considerable number of charities (many of them religious ones) are excepted from the requirement to register with the Commission if their income does not exceed the £100,000 income threshold and a further tranche is exempted altogether from the requirement to register, whatever their income. In addition, charities, whether or not exempt or excepted from registration, are not required to register if their income is below £5,000.
In his statutory review of the Charities Act 2011, Trusted and Independent: Giving charity back to charities, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts estimated that in England and Wales:
“In addition to the 162,000 registered charities there are estimated to be 80,000 further charities below the registration threshold, 110,000 excepted and exempt charities and 800 charitable Industrial and Provident Societies – making a total of over 350,000 charities in all” .
So as to the suggestion of an additional question on the 2016 Annual Return, it is not immediately clear what purpose the information would serve or what mischief it is intended to address. If only 23 religious charities out of an estimated 350,000 charities in England and Wales were the subject of statutory inquiries in 2013-14, it is difficult to understand in what way religious charities represent a particular problem to the regulator. But no doubt that will become clearer as the Commission works up its proposals.