Keeping Charity Sweet

The long awaited consultation on a new Charity Law for Northern Ireland was launced today by DSD. It was broadly welcomed by NICVA, although they havent seen the full proposals yet.

This law is about making sure all charities here meet the highest standards and are well run. It is also about ensuring that the public has confidence in the valuable work charities are doing for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. NICVA has have not had an opportunity to study the details but it backs the idea of a charities commission, a compulsory register of charities and clear annual accounts.
There are a few bogus charities in Northern Ireland and they could damage the good name of the thousands of good ones that are working hard to make Northern Ireland a better place, Seamas McAleavey, CEO of NICVA said.
Announcing the consultation, David Hanson said:
The consultation period will run for 12 weeks. The Department for Social Development, which has policy responsibility for charities, will then seek to present their proposed legislation to parliament in late autumn. The legislation should be in place by late spring of 2007. Whilst this will most obviously impact on charities, others who will have an interest include churches, sports groups, arts bodies and indeed the general public of Northern Ireland, who give so generously to all the charitable appeals. I would urge you to consider the proposals and offer your views.”

If all goes well, we should see a Charities Commission and Register of Charities in Northern Ireland, and not a moment before time.

  • Mick Fealty

    Saw this on Newsline tonight. It’s extraordinary that there have been no such checks and balances long before now.

  • Pete Baker

    It’s not as if no-one has been pointing it out though, Mick.. at least, over recent years there have been repeated noises about this.

    But what’s the guff about a 12 week consultation period?.. and the law will be in place by late Spring 2007?

    Sheesh.. if you’re going to govern.. bloody well govern!

  • Alan Law

    I really don’t know how this has passed us by for so long, I represent a national charity who fundraises in Northern Ireland. The situation here is a joke, with so many people collecting for pseudo-charitable organisations for years.

    But why the delay?

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve had suggestions that Slugger sets up as a charity, but had considered it impractical, not least for the 18 months delay it would mean were it constituted in England. Not so in Northern Ireland it would seem.

  • Animus

    Well, Northern Ireland charities have to register with the Inland Revenue, so it’s not totally unregulated, for the purposes of fundraising, etc, but it’s more of a postive duty. You’ll notice on letterhead from any legitimate charity an registration number. But, crucially, there are no sanctions for bogus charities at present.

    Some of you are saying why the delay? This went out for consulation last year or the year before and the new proposals are 245 pages long. It is necessary and A Good Thing for those who will be affected by the legislation to make any changes before the law takes effect.

  • Rory

    The trouble with stringent regulatory powers in the charitable sector is the willingness and ability of the regulatory body to apply them most especially against the little army of charities set up and run for personal gain.

    In England and Wales the SORPS accounting regulations require the most scrupulous and detailed rendering of accounts of funds received and their application. But to such an extent that the cost of applying SORPS has meant a great increase in charities’ non-profitable apllication of funds which often meets with disapproval from potential donors when they see such a proportion of funding disbursed to meet finance and administrative costs. I had seen one calculation that the cost of maintaining statutory records, as a proportion of income, in the charitable sector was 5 – 10 times the equivalent cost in the private sector.

    Yet it remains true that charities must be held to strict accounting – must indeed be like Caesar’s wife – not only above suspicion but always clearly seen to be above suspicion.

    But meanwhile the crooked charities simply do not bother and carry merrily on their way in the knowledge that the Charities Commission is always very slow to intervene, if indeed at all, and even then more gums than teeth when it does. Besides which they can, if caught, simply fold up their tents and move on to a new pitch.

  • Rory

    Ho, ho! The submission code on my above post was “Himself” 47. Has she promoted me I wonder?

  • Miss Fitz

    What you are saying is true, but as you know, the IR registration doesnt come close to regulating this area.

    The authorities are aware of bogus charities that are set up, and the public have no protection in that there is no simple way to check the legitimacy of the organisation.

    This came up as an issue on ‘On Your Behalf’ a couple of weeks ago, and the case Jimmmy Hughes from Trading Standards dealt with was a good one. An agency left a bag outside a caller’s home, asking for articles of clothing for a childrens charity. The accompanying note had a Charity Registration number on the bottom, but of course, it was compeltely meaningless. Trading Standards and BBC were unable to find any trace of this company and unable to verify that it was a charity at all.

    As our legislation models the UK one, I am not so convinved we should have been waiting quite as long as we have. This final consultation is appropriate, but talk of this legislation was around when I started in the Voluntary Sector a decade ago.

    Perhaps the answer is….. ‘well, if you had your own government now, wouldnt things be so much better’.

  • Miss Fitz

    I thought she had clipped your wings entirely, you have been conspicuous in your silence. I thought perhaps she had rumbled us……

  • Animus

    Miss Fitz – you are quite correct. The legislation is well overdue (having worked in the information and advice unit of NICVA, I have heard many tales of woe). But I think it is still important to ensure the proper procedure is followed through.

    And you’re right that the IR does not regulate. There is a positive benefit to charities for recieving funding and legitimacy, this still allows charlatans to operate unimpeded.

    I was never sure why we didn’t get a Charity Commission sooner. I know many charities were actually opposed, because they thought it would cost too much, but when has government listened to small charities? I suspect it’s been delayed because of the cost to the government.