response to the Charities Act Review Consultation
The Self Help Group for farmers,
pet owners and others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (The
SHG) was set up to provide support and legal advice to people being
investigated or prosecuted by the RSPCA, whose activities and prosecutions
are often controversial and have attracted a great deal of criticism.
That remit has grown and we run a legal help line and put people in
touch with specialist solicitors and veterinary experts.
We believe that there should
be a charities ombudsman who has the power to investigate complaints
about charities and if necessary to order redress. We have a petition
running on the government e-petition site and perhaps the wording
of that petition sums up the situation :xxxxxxxhttp://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/645
Create a Charities Ombudsman
Responsible department: Cabinet Office
This petition calls on the government to create a Charities Ombudsman
with the power to deal with complaints about charities and the authority
to order a charity to provide adequate redress if a complaint is
The Charity Commission is unable to get involved in a wide range
of complaints because they are not within its remit.
If a complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of a Charity's
own internal complaints procedure their only remaining option is
the legal system. With legal aid being cut drastically this is beyond
the reach of the majority of people.
Many charities are now running services or even acting as law enforcement
agencies, so it is important that they are seen to be properly regulated
and to have an effective and objective independent external complaints
We want Parliament to debate this issue.The petition runs until
the 5th of August and so far has 438 signatures.
We believe that the lack of
an open and accessible complaints procedure damages all charities
in the perception of the public.
Typical examples of the problems
people may experience are trespass to land and buildings. Unlawful
removal and refusal to return animals and other property. Bullying.
Demands that animals are signed over with no solicitor present or
legal advice available. Even such minor problems as being unable to
contact the people concerned to find out what has happened deserve
proper consideration and to be properly addressed.
Without an external and independent
regulator it is impossible for our clients to have their complaints
dealt with. Who can afford to employ solicitors to take action when
legal aid is virtually non-existent?
All other sectors pay for their
own regulation, so why should the charity sector be any different?
If charities can afford to pay high salaries to their Chief Executives
and other staff then they should not plead poverty when faced with
paying for their own regulatory regime.
should be a proper statutory definition of public benefit.
SHG believes that any public benefit test should allow the damage that
the charitable activity does to the public to be considered and that any
individual or organisation should be able to petition the Charity Commission
to ask them to determine whether the charity has either moved so far away
from its original aims and objectives that it needs to review its position
or that the original aims and objectives are no longer fit for function
or needed in today's society.
charities have become little more than political campaigners with their
other activities focused on providing evidence for those campaigns. This
is not charity. Charity is about actually helping someone or something.
The SHG has concerns about
fund raising. We believe that there should be a cooling off period
for anyone who is persuaded to make a donation to a charity in the
same way that there is for signing up for say double glazing.
We are also concerned that
people do not realise the significance of leaving large legacies to
charities or the effect it will have on their families. One only has
to look at recent cases where wills have been challenged to see that
there is much unhappiness out there. It is short sighted of charities
to effectively 'take the money and run' because disgruntled beneficiaries
will not go on to bequest legacies or become donors to charities.
Nor will people who read about what they consider to be sharp practice
raising should be externally regulated. If it should turn out that there
is to be no charities ombudsman then fund raising regulation should either
fall into the remit of the financial ombudsman or Consumer Direct and
sanctions should be available to the regulator otherwise the act of regulation
becomes a pointless exercise. Chief Executives and trustees should be
personally liable to be fined if their charities persistently breach the
Kasica & Ernest Vine