|Non-ministerial government department overview|
|Jurisdiction||England and Wales|
|Headquarters||Petty France, London|
|Annual budget||£22.9 million (2016-2017)|
|Non-ministerial government department executives|
The Charity Commission for England and Wales is the non-ministerial government department that regulates registered charities in England and Wales and maintains the Central Register of Charities. Since the 2000s, governance of charities in the United Kingdom has been devolved; operating in other parts of the country are the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (since 2003) and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (since 2008).
The Charity Commission answers directly to the UK Parliament rather than to government ministers. It is governed by a board, which is assisted by the chief executive (currently Helen Stephenson CBE who succeeded Paula Sussex in July 2017) and an executive team.
Some charities are not subject to regulation by or registration with the Charity Commission, because they are already regulated by another body, and are known as exempt charities. Most exempt charities are listed in Schedule 3 to the Charities Act 2011, but some charities are made exempt by other acts. However exempt charities must still comply with charity law and may approach the Charity Commission for advice.
Some charities are 'excepted' from charity registration. This means they do not have to register or submit annual returns, but are in all other respects subject to regulation by the Charity Commission. A charity is excepted if its income is £100,000 or less and it is in one of the following groups: churches and chapels belonging to certain Christian denominations; charities that provide premises for some types of schools; Scout and Guide groups; and charitable service funds of the armed forces.
In addition, if a charity's income is below the normal threshold for registration (£5,000), then it is not required to be registered with the Charity Commission. Nevertheless, it remains subject to regulation by the Charity Commission in all other respects.
Registration of a charity in England and Wales does not endow that status elsewhere, thus further registration has to be made before operating in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was established in 2009 to replace earlier regulation by the Voluntary and Community Unit of the Department for Social Development, part of the Northern Ireland Executive.
The commission carries out general monitoring of charities as part of its regular casework. It also has powers set out in the Charities Acts to conduct statutory investigations. However, opening a full statutory inquiry into a charity has a detrimental effect on the relationship with the regulator and can frustrate the intention to achieve a positive outcome. The commission, therefore, began around 2007 to carry out an intermediate form of action described as regulatory compliance investigations. In 2010 it opened over 140 of these cases, compared to just three full statutory investigations. However, the legality of these actions was debatable as they lacked a statutory basis. A high-profile example was the commission's report into The Atlantic Bridge, after which that body was dissolved in September 2011. The commission announced in October 2011, in the context of cost-cutting and a re-focussing of its activities, that it would no longer carry out regulatory compliance investigations.
Some of the activities of the commission have been questioned by the Public Administration Select Committee, which oversees the commission's work. For instance, on 23 October 2012, Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover accused the commission of "suppressing Christianity", after the committee heard that a religious group was refused charitable status by the Charity Commission, despite the group's attempts to demonstrate that it undertook genuine charitable works. Elphicke asked at the hearing if the commission was "actively trying to suppress religion in the UK, particularly the Christian religion" and stated "I think they [the commission] are committed to the suppression of religion".
Prior to the 1840s, a body of Commissioners had been established by the Statue of Charitable Uses 1601, but these proved ineffective. The Charity Commission was first established by the Charitable Trusts Act 1853. There had been several attempts at reforming charities before that which had been opposed by various interest groups including the church, the courts, the companies, and the universities. The power of the commission was strengthened by amendments to the act in 1855, 1860, and 1862.
As of 31 March 2015the commission had 288 employees and 19 agency staff in post.
Prior to restructuring in 2006, the equivalent of chair was the Chief Charity Commissioner.
From 2006 the role of Chief Charity Commissioner was replaced with those of Chair and Chief Executive of the Charity Commission