Social Policy Working Group Charities Bill 2007
Committee on Arts, Sport Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on the Charities Bill 2007
Introduction: The Northside Community Forum (hereafter the Forum) wishes to take this the opportunity to make a submission to the Department of Community Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs on the Charities Bill 2007 (the Bill) in advance of consideration of the Bill at Report stage.
The main aim of the Bill is to increase public confidence in Irish charities by introducing a comprehensive system of registration and regulation of charities.
The Forum as the representative body of almost 50 community & voluntary groups on the north-east of Dublin has a special interest in this Bill and largely welcomes the development of long over due statutory regulation in this area. The Forum is concerned, however, that the proposed statutory framework should achieve the right balance between proper accountability on the one hand and the support and promotion of charitable work at a community level on the other hand.
Profile of the Northside Community Forum
The Forum was established through a series of facilitated sessions with community groups operating in the catchment area of Northside Partnership throughout 2002-2004. The Forum currently represents 48 members from within the Community and Voluntary Sector such as Community Development Projects, Media initiatives, Youth Projects, Adult Education, Childcare, Residents Associations, Drug Prevention Schemes and Family Resource Centres. Its formation was a response to issues of mutual interest among local community & voluntary organisations such as funding issues, information sharing and collaboration. The structures and ways of working are open and inclusive and are based on commitment to social inclusion, equality and antipoverty. Its focus is to collaboratively work on issues together concerning the local community.
Objectives of the Forum •
Jointly work on an equal basis as the community & voluntary sector in partnership with the Northside Partnership and other relevant stakeholders on policy issues that address the needs of the people Community Forum members represent and work with.
Create a common voice for community sector groups who work from a social inclusion and equality perspective
Develop anti-poverty policy positions on relevant issues across the sector
Build up momentum to collectively engage in dialogue and have an input in decision-making
Establish links with other initiatives and groups to support the aims and objectives of the Community Forum
Establish relationships between groups with a similar agenda/from a similar background
Become less dependent (financially and politically) on the statutory sector
Local Experience The majority of the groups comprising the Forum are small organisations with limited resources and small staffing levels who devote the bulk of their time to practical service delivery. These organisations are a diverse mix and include organisations dedicated to helping single parents, the unemployed, early school leavers, youth groups and residents associations to name but a few. It is estimated that 40% of the community organisations that make up the Forum have charitable status. While the Forum organisations welcome the introduction of the Charities Bill 2007, many have expressed a certain amount of worry and concern over the implications of the Bill on their day-to-day operations.
For the most part this concern has centred on: â€˘
the extra burden that the Charities Bill will place on community groups to comply with stringent codes and practices such as providing annual activity and financial reports to a newly established Charities Regulator,
regulatory bodies, including the Companies Registration Office. â€˘
Compliance with the proposed new laws on fundraising with many organisations expressing concern over a lack of time, information and preparedness for the adoption of the Bill which they fear may result in them being punished or prosecuted due to the size of these groups.
lack of information on the Bill is particularly evident amongst the smaller groups affiliated with the Forum who, due to (a) their size, (b) limited resources and (c) reliance on a large cohort of volunteers have not had sufficient time to study and become familiar with the contents of the Bill.
The Forum sought to address this information deficit by running a networking event to inform groups of the content of the Bill and to promote debate on amendments prior to enactment. This submission on behalf of all of its member groups is as a direct result of this consultation.
Definition of Charitable Purpose The Forum welcomes the definition of charitable purpose for the first time in Irish legislation and agrees that a modern definition is required to respond to the needs of modern society. As social inclusion forms a significant part of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and ‘rights based’ approaches become more prevalent in the community & voluntary sector the Forum suggests it would be best for the definition to reflect these important activities. Furthermore, these activities, together with the Government and the European Union’s commitment to promoting greater participation in civil society will no doubt lead to community & voluntary groups advocating and campaigning on behalf of clients, service users and the third sector generally on issues of social and economic policy, legislative change and the operation of statutory bodies. We suggest that the non-exhaustive list of purposes beneficial to the community should be extended to include advocacy and campaigning activities.
The definition of Charitable Purposes be amended to include: •
the promotion of equality and social inclusion
the promotion and protection of human rights
The list of purposes be extended to include: •
advocacy and campaigning for law reform
Registration & Regulation The Charities Register The Forum welcomes the proposal to establish a new Authority to regulate this sector. The Bill does not however provide for any automatic recognition of charities already recognised by the Revenue Commissioners nor does it include an exemption from this rule for existing smaller charitable organisations. Neither does the Bill provide for automatic tax exemption for
organisations newly acquiring charitable status, so in the future organisations must apply to the new Authority for recognition as charities and also to the Revenue Commissioners for tax exemptions.
Accounting & Auditing The proposed Bill requires charities to prepare and present an annual statement of account to the Authority with an annual report. Charities established as companies must continue to comply with the reporting requirements of company law. The forum is concerned that this reporting requirement to the Authority will add to the administrative and financial burden of many smaller groups. The Forum is also concerned that the criminal sanctions for failure to comply with these reporting requirements may discourage community members from volunteering on Boards of local community and voluntary organisations. The Forum is also concerned that the list of factors automatically disqualifying a trustee or officer of a charity from acting includes a blanket ban on those who have been convicted of an offence or who have been sent to prison. This will prevent involvement of those who may have since turned their life around and wish to become involved in charity work with charities at a local level. We suggest instead that the Authority have the discretion to allow the involvement of such persons further to consideration on application on a case by case basis.
Investigations The Forum welcomes the more extensive powers of investigation the Bill proposes to give to the Office of Corporate Enforcement as this will increase public confidence in Irish Charities. We suggest that the encouragement of volunteers in the running of charities be further enhanced by the inclusion in the Bill of legal aid for charities, Directors and Trustees under investigation in this regard.
Summary & Conclusion
The Forum largely welcomes the proposed legislation as it will positively increase public confidence in Irish Charities. We suggest the legislation would be better for the following amendments: •
The definition of charitable purpose to include the promotion of equality and social inclusion and the promotion and protection of human rights;
The list of charitable purposes be extended to include advocacy and campaigning for law reform as well as social inclusion work;
The automatic recognition of charities already recognised by the Revenue Commissioners;
An automatic tax exemption for charities acquiring charitable status without application to the Revenue Commissioners;
A requirement of reporting annually to the new Authority only;
Legal Aid to be extended to charities, Directors & Trustees under investigation to encourage voluntary involvement in the governance of charities.
The Authority to have discretion to consider application by certain persons who might otherwise be excluded, to be included as a Trustee or officer of a charity.