Civil society plans ‘a timid, tick-box exercise’, says shadow charities minister

Steve Reed accuses the government of attempting to cover up its neglect of the sector

The government’s plan to develop a civil society strategy is a timid tick-box exercise, according to the shadow minister for civil society.

In a statement released this morning, Steve Reed accused the government of neglecting the sector and said it was attempting to cover this up.

Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Civil Society, today announced plans to develop a strategy through a listening exercise that will begin next year.

But Reed said charities would have little faith in the “timid” strategy, particularly after the government rejected the recommendations of Lord Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act.

“This civil society strategy is little more than a tick-box exercise to cover up the government’s total neglect of the sector,” said Reed.

“It doesn’t take a year-long review to find out that demoting the civil society brief from a powerful, cross-department position in the Cabinet Office was always going to leave the sector isolated.”

Gemma Walpole, chief executive of the small charity the Norfolk Family Mediation Service, welcomed the announcement that the strategy would explore how charities could collaborate.

“It’s really good news,” she said. “But small charities are already doing lots of collaborative work on how to be more effective together, so I hope that the strategy listens to small charities and takes into account work that has already been done, rather than duplicating it.”

Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said it was important that the strategy was backed up by funding and a “beefed-up” Office of Civil Society to implement it.

“Without this, any strategy has the risk of becoming merely words on paper and having no impact on the operating environment for charities,” he said.

“Given the tough times ahead, we cannot afford to waste the potential of the sector.”

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the charity leaders body Acevo and the Association of Charitable Foundations all welcomed Crouch’s announcement.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at the NCVO, said: “Making sure voluntary organisations are valued and supported by the government will mean they can do even more across society.”

He said the consultative approach set out by the minister was right to get the best results.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “It’s good to see Tracey Crouch’s commitment to producing a civil society strategy that will protect the sustainability of the vital work our sector does.”

She said she hoped the strategy would “provide a platform to support and develop our sector and its impact in the years ahead”.

The strategy proposal has also been welcomed by those representing small civil society organisations.

Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said: “I’m genuinely excited about it. Tracey Crouch has a track record, having developed a similar strategy in her role as sports minister, which seems to be going well.

“My only concern is that she is talking to the right people, not just those with the money, and recognises that 97 per cent of the charity sector is the little guys.”

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of the community charity Locality, said the strategy needed to focus on how government could harness the power of community by providing more support for community organisations.

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Twitter doubles up – and charities respond

After a test of the 280-character limit, the social media giant has doubled the limit for everyone, and the sector has joined in with gusto

Twitter is now allowing tweets of up to #280characters, more than twice the previous length, and the sector has been quick to react to the new expansive digital world with characteristic enthusiasm.

Twitter’s decision to roll out the 280 character limit comes after a test in September that allowed some Twitter account holders to try the expanded messaging tool. The organisation said that in the first few days many users tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel, but behaviour soon changed. In a blog on the site, Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen said: “We saw that when people needed to use more than 140 characters they tweeted more easily and more often. But, importantly, people tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.”

Rosen said that Twitter (and its users) were concerned that timelines would fill up with 280-character tweets and people testing the new limit would always use the whole space. But that didn’t happen: only 5 per cent of Tweets were longer than 140 characters and only 2 per cent were longer than 190 characters.

She said that users in the test got “very excited” about the extra space early on and many tweets went way beyond 140 characters.

“People did silly (creative) things like writing just a few characters per line to make their tweets extra large,” she said. “It was a temporary effect and didn’t last long. We expect to see some of this novelty effect spike again with this week’s launch and expect normal behaviour to resume soon after.”

Rosen added that the people who had more space to tweet got more engagement (likes, retweets and mentions) and more followers, but it was not clear whether or not this was because of the novelty or because of the quality of their content.

Whatever the reason, the sector has quickly joined in the bigger Twittersphere with a combination of humorous and serious messaging. Here’s a selection from the early adopters:

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Social care charities given 15 months to settle estimated £400m back-pay bill

An announcement by the government says the organisations have a year to identify what they owe sleep-in carers and a further three months to pay the arrears

Charities that owe back-pay to sleep-in care workers have been given 15 months to pay up to six years’ worth of arrears totalling an estimated £400m, under a scheme set out by the government.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Department of Health and HM Revenue & Customs yesterday published the headline details of a voluntary scheme designed to encourage charities to pay back-pay to sleep-in care workers, which gives organisations a year to identify what they owe and a further three months to pay off the arrears.

But charities and lawyers criticised the announcement, with the learning disability charity Mencap warning that charities signing up to the scheme could effectively be “writing their own suicide notes”.

Sleep-in care workers, who are widely used in the sector to care for vulnerable adults, were typically paid a flat rate of between £35 and £45, with workers receiving either the national minimum wage or the national living wage for any hours actually spent providing care rather than being asleep, according to the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group.

But in the wake of two employment tribunal decisions last year, the DBEIS changed its guidance to ensure that the national minimum wage applied to sleep-in carers for the entirety of the time they are present.

Mencap estimated in the summer that the back-pay bill could cost the sector £400m and bankrupt many social care charities and providers.

Under the new Social Care Compliance Scheme, HMRC will begin writing to social care employers that have complaints against them for underpaying sleep-in care workers to encourage them to sign up to the programme.

Employers that choose not to take part “will be subject to HMRC’s normal enforcement approach”, the government said.

The statement from the government said it was looking at ways to minimise the impact on the charity sector, and was discussing with the European Commission whether any government support for the social care sector would contravene EU state-aid rules.

But the announcement has been met with fury from charities and representative bodies in the social care sector.

Mencap, which would owe £20m in back-pay and has said it would face closing 200 residential care homes and services and making 4,000 staff redundant if forced to pay, claimed the government’s announcement failed to provide reassurance to patients and staff.

Derek Lewis, chair of Mencap, said: “Three months on from the government’s commitment to seek a solution to the devastating £400m liability hanging over the sector, there is only the promise of further delay and no commitment, even in principle, to accept responsibility for a liability created by government changing the rules.

“Details of the scheme have not yet been made available. Many providers, particularly smaller ones, might be reluctant to take part in the absence of any funding assurance, concerned that they will be writing their own suicide notes.

“It is quite wrong that providers should be expected to subsidise the increased cost of on-going sleep-in care.”

Steve Scown, chair of the VODG, said the government had failed to consult properly with the social care sector, despite the VODG providing detailed analysis and advice to the Department of Health.

“The announcement raises lots of uncertainties and unanswered questions, which we shall be taking to government,” said Scown. “This situation risks yet more unintended consequences as the limbo for providers and personal budget holders continues.”

Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the VODG, said: “Voluntary sector care and support providers are disproportionately affected by social care budget cuts because the people they mainly support are publicly funded. The sleep-in crisis is placing immense strain on the sector and we are calling on government to urgently identify a long-term and sustainable funding solution for social care.”

Martin Green, chief executive of the representative body Care England, said the government “needs to accept the responsibility for meeting the substantial costs of backdating sleep-in costs and take full account of the reality that the sector has been operating for years within very contradictory guidance”.

Matt Wort, a partner at the law firm Anthony Collins Solicitors, urged charities not to sign up to the SCCS until an appeal by Mencap about sleep-in care workers’ wages had concluded.

“This is once again an ill-considered move by government that could have a devastating impact on the UK social care industry,” Wort said.

“Local authority and NHS commissioners won’t have funded providers sufficiently for the shifts in question to compensate this shortfall. Forcing care providers to pay for its own mistakes and leaving essential services at the mercy of HMRC is both unethical and nonsensical.

“Businesses and individuals must not sign up to this self-assessment scheme until they have further clarity. Mencap’s forthcoming court of appeal case, due to be heard in March 2018, could change the position as to whether sleep-in carers are entitled to the minimum wage.”

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More than half of charities lack basic digital skills, says Lloyds Bank report

Its 2017 UK Business Digital Index says three-quarters of charities do not feel they are digitally skilled enough to protect from fraud and scams

Three-quarters of charities feel they do not have the digital skills to protect themselves from fraud and scams, and more than half are lacking basic digital skills, according to a report from Lloyds Bank.

Published today, the UK Business Digital Index 2017 measures the digital capability of 2,000 UK small businesses, including 500 charities, using a combination of actual online behaviour and survey analysis to understand their attitudes to digital technology.

Although 58 per cent of charitable donations are given in cash, the growth in online payment capability and the increase in online accounting services (two in three charities are now using these) means that there is a need for charities to improve their online safety and security, the report says.

But the report says that 75 per cent of UK charities are not confident of preventing criminal activity.

The index says that more businesses and charities are becoming more digitally capable, but there is a growing minority of organisations with low capability, including an estimated 100,000-plus UK charities that lack one or more of five “basic digital skills” (see “Basic digital skills in the report”).

Of the 52 per cent lacking basic digital skills, 5 per cent of charities had none of the five.

However, nearly half of the 500 charities surveyed do have the full set of skills, the report says, and 20 per cent (equating to about 40,000 charities) are “on the cusp” of gaining full basic digital skills, with four of the five areas covered.

The report says that the areas most lacking among voluntary organisations and which need most focus are those of “managing information” (missing in 42 per cent of charities surveyed) and “problem-solving” (36 per cent).

Compared with a similar exercise carried out last year, the 2017 report says that problem-solving “continued to be the skill with the greatest opportunity for development” among charities. It saus although 64 per cent of charities exhibit these skills, there is scope for many charities to take advantage of using technology to help them reduce costs and increase efficiency.

The report says the number of charities using online analytics remains very low, although it has increased from 6 per cent in 2016 to 11 per cent this year, and 81 per cent do not store digital information on their customers and suppliers. The authors say this presents “a huge opportunity for charities to learn more about their donor and volunteer bases using free trails such as Google Analytics or Webtrends”.

Almost three-quarters of charities report time savings as the greatest key benefit, increasing to 90 per cent among those regarded as the most digitally capable, says the report.

Attracting more volunteers and donors, more effective marketing and increased interaction with supporters, simplified payment and donations processes, and cost savings also feature highly among the benefits to organisations with greater digital skills.

The report says that organisations with high digital capability are more likely to invest further in digital; 83 per cent of this group say they are confident in the future of their charities and are twice as likely to see growth as important or very important to their charities’ strategies.

Among those charities with the lowest digital capabilities, motivation remains the biggest barrier, the report says.

More than a third (33 per cent) of those in this group say that being online is not seen as relevant, a figure that has remained virtually static since 2014. However, a lack of staff digital skills (31 per cent) and a lack of time (24 per cent) are also seen as major barriers to developing digital capabilities.

Nick Williams, managing director, consumer and commercial digital at Lloyds Bank, said: “Small businesses and charities demonstrating low digital capabilities are increasing, and they are at risk of falling further behind. There are now 1.6 million small businesses and still 100,000 charities without the full set of basic digital skills. It is still alarming to hear that one-third of charities and one-quarter of small businesses still do not see how digital is relevant to them.”

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Government has shown ‘complete and utter disregard’ for charities, says shadow minister

Labour’s Steve Reed says the government’s failure to produce a report on the impact of Brexit for the sector shows it is not interested in charities

Steve Reed, the shadow minister for civil society, has accused the government of showing a “complete and utter disregard for the UK’s charity sector” because it failed to consult charities about the impact of Brexit.

A letter published yesterday by the Department for Exiting the European Union included the government’s formal response to a House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee report called Brexit: Trade in Goods.

The annex to the government’s response includes a list of 58 sectors for which reports have been compiled, but not published, about the impact of leaving the European Union in those areas.

The sectors for which an impact report has been produced account for 88 per cent of the UK economy, the government’s response says, but does not include any impact report about the likely effect of Brexit on the charity sector.

The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign estimated before the EU referendum last year that charities would lose more than £200m a year in EU Commission funding if the UK were to leave the European Union.

Reed, who has tabled an urgent parliamentary question about the issue, said: “The government has published a list of 58 different sectors it has consulted about the impact of Brexit. But charities were excluded. 

“Although the government has consulted the gambling sector and the crafts industries, they didn’t bother asking the voluntary sector. Civil society organisations employ more than two million people, contribute £12bn to the economy and stand to lose millions in EU funding after Brexit.”

He claimed that the lack of an impact report for the charity sector showed the government was not interested in charities.

“The government’s complete and utter disregard for the UK’s charity sector is breathtaking,” Reed said. “When they started cutting public services, they told charities to pick up the pieces. Now, with charity funding drying up, the government doesn’t even pretend to be interested in what charities think any more. It’s a disgrace.”

The DEXEU was unable to provide a comment before publication of this story, but it is understood that an impact report covering the voluntary sector was not produced because the reports focused on sectors that trade within the European Union, not those that receive funding from it.

An opposition day debate on the 58 sectoral impact assessments is due to be held in the House of Commons today.

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Largest fundraising charities received more than 42,000 complaints last year

The figures are contained in a report published today by the Fundraising Regulator

Almost 900 of the largest fundraising charities received more than 42,000 complaints about their fundraising activities last year, figures from the Fundraising Regulator show.

The regulator has today published a report on the number of complaints received in 2016 by 893 charities that spend more than £100,000 a year on fundraising.

The report says it is not possible to make direct comparisons with previous complaints data published by the Fundraising Standards Board, which put out its final annual complaints report last year, because the charities involved are not necessarily the same.

Last year’s FRSB report said complaints about fundraising had risen by 28 per cent in 2015 on the year before, despite a 33 per cent fall in fundraising activity by charities.

The FRSB’s report said 66,814 complaints were reported by 1,504 member organisations, which works out as 44.4 per member.

Today’s data from the Fundraising Regulator is equivalent to 47.9 complaints per member.

Direct mail accounted for the highest proportion of the complaints reported by charities in 2016, with 16,131 in a year when more than 300 million items of direct mail were sent, the report says.

Door-to-door fundraising was in second place on 6,921 complaints, with email fundraising third and clothing collections fourth, according to the report.

Figures published by the regulator show that 83 per cent of the complaints about addressed direct mail were related to accompanying enclosures sent by charities. The regulator says it wants to better understand why this was so.

The report says more than 4,000 complaints in 2016 were reported by four charities, which it does not name. The regulator says it will follow up with those organisations to understand the nature and context of those complaints.

The report says the regulator is also on track to receive more complaints itself this year than the FRSB did each year, with about 1,000 expected to be received in 2017/18, compared with 868 reported by the FRSB in 2015.

The report says the regulator received a “large number” of complaints that were outside its remit, which it referred to the relevant organisation where possible.

When put in the context of the volume of activity in each fundraising method, volunteer fundraising came out as the most complained-about method, followed by face-to-face fundraising on private sites.

The Fundraising Regulator said its report represented a new approach to how complaints data can be used and it would be putting forward proposals on what it might do differently in future years.

The regulator said it had noted a “clear willingness and commitment from organisations to work with us to continue to improve fundraising practices and ensure the best experience possible for donors”.

Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said the report demonstrated the nature of complaints made by the public about fundraising practices and the positive progress made by the sector in addressing those concerns.

“We are delighted to have received nearly 900 responses, demonstrating the collaborative nature of the sector as we work together to learn from complaints in order to improve public confidence in fundraising practices,” he said.

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: “As the Fundraising Regulator points out, there is a low proportion of complaints compared with contact with the public, which highlights that the vast majority of fundraising is carried out to a high standard.

“However, there is always room for improvement, and these findings will help the fundraising community to do even more to improve the way charities ask people for support.”

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Extra funding for regulator ‘should not come from charging charities’, Treasury told

Four sector umbrella bodies have written to the Treasury to say the Charity Commission badly needs more funding, but there should be no ‘charity tax’

Four charity umbrella bodies have called on the government to provide more funding for the Charity Commission, but said this should not come from the regulator charging charities for its services.

A letter from the chief executives of the Charity Finance Group, the charity leaders body Acevo, the local infrastructure body Navca and the Small Charities Coalition, sent on Friday to Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, asks for an increase in the grant given to the Charity Commission.

The regulator’s funding has been reduced by about £8m on the figure it received in 2010, and has been frozen at £20.3m a year until 2020.

The letter says effective regulation is crucial to effective regulation and to public confidence in charities.

“Unfortunately, the government is currently putting at risk the billions raised by the public and tens of millions of volunteering hours, by drastically cutting the Charity Commission’s budget over recent years and now freezing it until the end of the decade,” the letter says.

“This is despite rising demand for its services and inflation eroding the real-terms value of the grant given by government.”

It says the solution to the problem of declining resources is not what the letter calls a “charity tax” that “forces charities to hand over donors’ money to subsidise the regulator and threaten its independence in the eyes of the public”.

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William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, said in September 2015 that it was inevitable charities would have to make a financial contribution to the regulator’s services.

He subsequently said in an interview, published in January, that charities in England and Wales might have to pay a levy of up to £3,000 a year to fund the regulator, with a consultation on the subject due “in the near future”.

The consultation has still not been published, due in part to delays caused by the snap general election earlier this year.

The letter from the four charity umbrella bodies says increased funding for the commission should be spent on more public outreach so people have greater confidence in the regulation of charities and to ensure that trustees are supported in understanding their responsibilities.

“The sums involved in funding the regulator from the government’s perspective are modest,” it says. “But the contribution made by the charity sector is substantial.”

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Breaking GDPR rules ‘could put charities out of business’, says data strategist

Ilja de Coster of Amnesty International in Belgium tells the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands that failing to tell donors what information they hold on them could cost charities dear

Charities will face fines that could put them out business if they cannot tell donors what information they are holding about them after the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force, delegates at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands have heard.

Ilja de Coster, fundraising data strategist at Amnesty International in Belgium and director of donor relationship management at the fundraising agency The DonorVoice, warned that charities needed to prepare their systems to deal with the implications of the EU legislation, which is due to be implemented from 25 May next year.

Under the GDPR, people will have the right to approach any organisation and demand to know what data the organisation is holding about them.

De Coster said he recommended that charities should ensure their customer relationship management system has a simple mechanism to allow them to extract all the data on a particular subject into a single report.

“That’s an important thing,” he said. “Every person has the right to access data and, in the whole fine and penalty system, if you do not comply with that I guarantee you will get a high penalty.

“If you will not answer that request from a donor, you are out of business – that’s it. The fee will be the maximum.”

Under the GDPR, the Information Commissioner’s Office will be able to levy fines on organisations for data protection breaches of up to 4 per cent of their turnover or €20m (£18m), whichever is larger.

De Coster also told delegates that charities operating in more than one country needed to be aware that any fines would be calculated on the basis of turnover of the global organisation, not just the turnover of the charity in the country in which the breach happened.

He said the GDPR should be viewed as human rights legislation, because it was designed to protect people’s right to privacy, guaranteed under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and many of the requirements of the GDPR were not new.

“The GDPR is the continuation of existing data protection law in Europe,” he said. “There’s some details stuff and some optimisation stuff based on the evolution of technology, but basically everything you’re not allowed to do in GDPR you are not allowed to do today.

“But what is new is that from now on it’s serious; playtime is over.”

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Regulator finds ‘concerning lack of safeguarding practices’ at new military charities

From a random sample of 21 such organisations registered since 2007, the Charity Commission also found problems with fundraising and financial controls

There is a “concerning lack of safeguarding practices” and issues with fundraising practices at newly registered military charities, according to a Charity Commission report.

When surveying a random sample of 21 military charities registered with the regulator since 2007, the commission found a litany of problems involving fundraising, financial controls and the safeguarding of beneficiaries.

Its report says the commission decided to carry out the exercise after hearing concerns about fundraising practices and the adequacy of safeguarding procedures, particularly for veterans with physical and mental health needs, such as those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report says some of the military charities in the sample that used professional fundraisers did not have fundraising agreements in place, which is in breach of legal requirements.

It says that some of the charities could not demonstrate why using a professional fundraiser was in their best interests, and had not assessed or managed reputational risks associated with the fundraising methods they used.

Some had “not operated systems or controls to demonstrate sufficient monitoring which ensures the charity receives all of the funds raised by the fundraisers and people given permission to raise money on the charity’s behalf”, the report says.

The report also highlights concerns about safeguarding, particularly in charities dealing with veterans suffering from PTSD.

“The commission found a concerning lack of safeguarding policies and practices in some of the charities and a need to strengthen existing policies in a majority of the others,” the report says.

“From the evidence seen, this was due to the trustees not having considered their beneficiaries to be vulnerable.”

The commission says in the report that in many cases failures in safeguarding or fundraising policies were linked to other problems, such as insufficient controls over the charity’s finances or a lack of financial planning.

There were also concerns about complaint policies and the management of conflicts of interest at some of the charities included in the sample, the report says.

But it adds that the charities examined were generally set up with good intentions and a passion for helping military veterans, and the report highlights some good practice, including effective collaborative working to help beneficiaries and cooperation between trustees.

As a result of the commission’s work, one charity ceased to operate and another is in the process of closing down.

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “My message to those thinking of setting up new military charities is to think carefully before doing so. There are other ways of supporting the armed forces community, including supporting with money or time an existing, established veterans charity. Setting up a new charity might not be the most effective way to help.”

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