Sua Sponte

The unwarranted ramblings of a charity solicitor.

A late record of a recent CLA meeting

The meeting of the Charity Law Association (CLA) last Thursday evening (blame DIY in a new home and a demanding kitten for the delay in the arrival of this post) was interesting for a number of reasons. Well, to me, anyway.

Amongst the items of interest was the first ever election to the CLA committee by online means - truly, we are entering the 20th century! Joking apart, I much appreciated the ease of use of the online voting method

There was a tale of cuts and woe (i.e. an overview of the Charity Comission's Strategic Review) resignedly told by Sam Younger of the Commission. The Commission is having to face 33% cuts to its funding over four years, meaning that it is going to have to focus on its core regulatory duties, and on doing the things that only the Commission can do, and, by the looks of it, not much else

However, by far the most entertaining section of the evening was the talk given by Ben Harrison of the Office of Civil Society.

The presentation started well, with an explanation as to the role of the OCS in 'translating the Big Society vision into practical policies', and its five teams: Big Society Policy & Analysis, Giving White Paper, Behavioural Insights (i.e. the 'Nudge' team), Open Public Services, Charities & Sector Support, Social Investment & Social Enterprise, and, lastly, Social Action.

Yes, you read that list correctly. That would be 'five' teams. Having dealt with the introductory formalities, Mr Harrison moved onto his update on the Charities Act implementation.

With tranche two of the exempt charities (including academies, foundation & voluntary schools, and sixth form colleges) being regulated by the Secretary of State from the start of August, he confirmed that the OCS would soon be able to start work on tranche three (including further education colleges, charitable industrial and provident socities, and registered social landlords).

There was then the now familiar reprise of 'the charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) structure should be available soon'. The CIO will be, as the name suggests, an incorporated charitable entity, but it is a form specifically designed for the charity sector, and CIOs will be regulated by the Charity Commisison alone.

In my former employment, I was fortunate enough to be responsible for preparing an occasional 'Charities Briefing'. If I had a pound for each time I had reported that the Government had announced this new structure would be available in 'Spring [insert year of Government's choice]', I would have...oh, at least £3.

Frankly, I now feel the same way about the CIO as I do about the guided bus from St Ives to Cambridge. I'd like to think that it will be available soon, but I simply won't be able to believe it until I see it.

The latest news is that legislation for CIOs will be placed before Parliament after the summer recess. Once through Parliament, its implementation will be phased, and initially the new structure will only be available to new charities.

This is bad news for existing unincorporated charities, which may have been waiting for the opportunity to incorporate into this form for a number of years now, and for existing incorporated charitable organisations, such as charitable companies limited by guarantee, which may have been seeking to convert to the CIO structure to escape dual regulation by both the Charity Commisison and another regulator. However, if phased implementation is the price to pay for having the structure available sooner rather than later, I suppose I can live with it.

There was then a brief justification as to why the Charities Bill (Consolidation) has been introduced in March this year, when the Charities Act Review is due to begin before 8 November - all the preparatory work has been done, and this is the last opportunity to take it forward with Law Commission support (which means a shorter journey through Parliament).

In relation to the Charities Act Review, although we know it must begin before 8 November 2011, its finishing date cannot be predicted, although it is likely to be Spring / Summer 2012. Its duration very much depends what the Government decides needs to be reviewed. For example, there is already a ministerial commitment to review the options realting to the licensing of public charitable collections.

At the end of his presentation, I exercised considerable will power and managed not to ask Mr Harrison to translate the Big Society there and then.

Anyway, it is late and I have rambled on enough.