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Charity Commission

Volume 712: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

Questions

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Patel of Bradford on 2 June (WS 66–7), whether the Charity Commission considers it in the interests of ensuring effective governance for a charity not to give notice of an election meeting to members entitled to attend were the evidence to suggest that the failure to give notice was or might have been motivated by the purpose of excluding votes. [HL4407]

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Patel of Bradford on 2 June (WS 66–7), what action the Charity Commission would take, in the interests of ensuring effective governance of a charity, were evidence available to show that members entitled to attend an election meeting were not given notice of the meeting. [HL4408]

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord Patel of Bradford on 2 June (WS 66–7), what approach the Charity Commission takes to reviewing any of its decisions which may be affected by an error of fact or law; and to whom such decisions may be referred, other than the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or by an application for judicial review. [HL4409]

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Charity Commission. I have asked the commission to reply.

Letter from Andrew Hind, Chief Executive, Charity Commission, dated June 2009.

As the Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, I have been asked to respond to your written Parliamentary Questions.

Parliamentary question (HL4407)

We recognise that there is scope for problems in membership charities if proper attention is not paid to their governance arrangements. For this reason we published a report on membership charities in March 2004, which provides best practice guidance. This includes information on the holding of elections and voting procedures. This is available from our website at www.charitycommission.gov.uk.

For the most part, the running of elections is the responsibility of the charity trustees. They must act in accordance with their governing document, charity law, and where appropriate, company law.

In our experience, a problem with voting at an election meeting is indicative of a wider dispute or disagreement in the charity. Only in very limited circumstances will the Commission become involved in such a dispute, usually where there are no validly appointed trustees. Instead, those involved should try and use all available methods to resolve the dispute themselves. Our website contains information to help them do this—“Conflicts in your Charity: a statement of approach by the Charity Commission”, and I will arrange for a copy of this to be placed in the Library of the House. For instance, where a more formal approach is required, professional mediation can be a quick and cost effective way to resolve a dispute.

We would only become involved if there were matters of serious concern and where it was necessary and proportionate for us to do so.

Parliamentary question (HL4408)

Whether we will take action in a case will depend upon the issues involved, the risks to the charity and whether our intervention is necessary and proportionate.

There may be legitimate reasons why notification of an election meeting has not been received. For instance, if the charity was not informed of a change of address or the person's membership had lapsed. However it may be indicative of a wider dispute or disagreement in the charity. In my response to a previous question (HL4407) I outlined the Commission's approach to disputes in membership charities and the sources of information available on our website.

In the first instance, the members should take the matter up with the trustees and ask why they were not sent notice of the meeting. If they do not receive a satisfactory answer then they could consider what further action to take. The charity may have a procedure for dealing with disputes or disagreements. The governing document may also indicate what options are open to them.

If we were made aware of the situation, then we would provide the trustees with advice and guidance to help them resolve the situation and ensure that the charity adhered to best practice. Our experience is that disputes in membership charities are best resolved by the members themselves rather than by any direct intervention from us.

Parliamentary question (HL4409)

We take a lot of trouble to make sure that, in making decisions, we get them right first time. However, we do recognise that from time to time a customer may consider that we have not taken the correct decision. We therefore have procedures in place that enable an interested party to ask for one of our decisions to be reviewed. These are set out on our website at http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/tcc/reviewproc.asp.

The review, undertaken by a senior Commission officer, will decide whether our final decision is the right one in the sense that it is a proper exercise of our powers and consistent with our statutory objectives. We also check that the reasons for our decisions have been adequately expressed.

If a customer is not satisfied with our final decision they may be able to appeal or make an application for review to the Charity Tribunal. This is an independent body set up under the Charities Act 2006 to hear appeals against our decisions or applications for review of our decisions. It is part of the Tribunals Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. It provides an independent route of appeal for charities which have exhausted our own decision review process. Further information is available from its website at www.charity. tribunals.gov.uk.

For those decisions that cannot be appealed to the Charity Tribunal, appellants can seek a review of the decision through the Commission's Outcome Review Panel procedures or, of course, through judicial review. For standard of service issues, the Commission has established complaints procedures. If, having been through these procedures the complainant remains dissatisfied, complainants have further recourse through the Commission's Independent Complaints Reviewer and thereafter the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman (further details on all of the above can be found at http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/tcc/compproc. asp).

I hope this is helpful.