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Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill 2015 (UK)

A Bill is currently moving through the British Parliament, which proposes amending the Charities Act 1992 (UK) and the Charities Act 2011 (UK) to alter the powers of both charities and the UK Charity Commission.  It includes the power to prohibit individuals with “extremist” views from holding controlling positions within charities.  With counter-terrorism being at the forefront of both public and political debate at the moment, it is possible that Australian lawmakers may look towards these proposed amendments.

Three of the major changes proposed by the Bill are:

  1. The power of the Charity Commission to remove trustees who were responsible, knew contributed, or facilitated the misconduct or mismanagement of a charity;
  2. The power of charities to make “social investments”, defined by the Bill as an act “carried out with a view to both:
  3. Directly furthering the charities purposes; and
  4. Achieving a financial return for the charity”.
  5. The power of the Charity Commission to “disqualify individuals whose conduct makes them unfit to be a charity trustee”.

The amending Bill is the result of recommendations made by the National Audit Office to “tackle abuse of charitable status” and the “calls for stronger powers” made by the Prime Minister’s extremism taskforce and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The Bill is supported by the UK Charities Commission.

Furthermore, in a draft Home Office counter extremism strategy obtained by the Daily Telegraph it is reported that “once the legislation is enacted, the Charity Commission will take action against all trustees who met the definition of extremism.  The strategy defines extremism as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and believes”.  While the Bill contains no explicit reference to “extremism”, the Daily Telegraph claims that “[a] number of aid charities”, “several mosques” and “[s]ome private Muslim schools” may fall within the definition of “extremism”.

A number of concerns have been raised about the changes proposed by the Bill:

Firstly, as Baroness Barker has articulated, there is “the potential chilling effect that it may have on people who work within Islamic charities”.  Baroness Barker has also argued that the clause which empowers the Charity Commission to examine a trustee’s conduct, which is “not limited in time” or “just their conduct within a charity”, is “drawn too widely”.

Furthermore, as Frank Cranmer has pointed out, determining what qualifies as “extremism” will be “to some extent at least, a matter of judgment”.

Finally, as Scott Taylor has identified, some people are “concerned” that the Charity Commission’s power to remove trustees “could be misused”, and have “called for appropriate safeguards to protect against the potential for abuse of this power”.

Further reading:

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill 2015 (UK),

Frank Cranmer, “Faith, charity trustees and the counter-extremism agenda”, Law & Religion UK, 21 September 2015,

Andrew Gilligan, “Extremists to be purged from charity boards under new law”, Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2015,

Scott Taylor, “Charity Commission’s powers to be strengthened under new Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill”, Lexology, 27 July 2015,

United Kingdom, Parliamentary Debates, House of Lords, 10 June 2015, Column 807 (Baroness Barker)

Merryn Lynch, Solicitor

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