Charity leaders raise concerns over worsening support from the regulator

Trustees and other senior charity workers have raised concerns over a decline in the quality of support they are receiving from the Charity Commission when reporting serious incidents and seeking advice on regulatory matters.

Concerns are also raised around the regulator’s “overly complex” guidance and delays returning calls and emails.

In addition, many charity leaders want the Commission to ensure it makes its staff available to speak to charities over the phone when they have a query, according to a survey of charity leaders.

While 72% respondents said the Commission’s service for reporting a serious incident was good or very good in 2020/21, this proportion fell to 64% in 2021/22.

Over the same period the proportion rating the regulator’s support for applying to register a charity fell from 83% to 77%.

The proportion of callers rating the Commission’s support when needing a query answered or seeking advice as good or very good also fell sharply over the last year, from 73% to 65%.

In contrast customer satisfaction with the quality of the regulator’s online advice and information on its register has improved over the last year.

Overall, when prompted, charity leaders who had called the regulator said that most services have stayed the same.

“Although a significant minority point to some improvement,” warns a report into the survey’s findings, carried out by Yonder for the regulator.

'Overly complex'

This includes concerns that “terminology is still sometimes found to be overly complex or legal in nature and not aimed at ordinary people”.

Also “when email communications are mentioned, it is often in the context of slow responses or not receiving a response at all”.

“Some feel the process of contacting the contact centre or email queries can take far too long, leaving them confused or unable to resolve their issue,” adds the customer satisfaction report.

Other concerns are “impractical” advice and a “one size fits all approach” that ignores the needs of specific charities.

Charities are keen to be able to speak to an advisor or case worker but this is proving difficult, according to the survey.

Website functionality can also be improved, with respondents reporting they are struggling to navigate it.

“Remember many of us are not professionals, we don't have sector knowledge and expertise,” said one respondent.

“That's what we come looking for! Just expecting us to do everything right is not helpful, we want to be told and/or shown how in basic simple language.”

Another described the Charity Commission’s website as “exhausting and feels like a minefield” adding “it needs to be simplified big time”.

Yonder’s survey involved more than 1,100 participants, taken from the regulator’s database. More than a third are trustees, a quarter are charity chairs and a similar proportion are treasurers.

According to the Charity Commission’s latest annual report it answered 73,878 calls through its contact centre in 2021/22, 14,000 more than the previous year.

It aims to answer all calls with 120 seconds. The regulator says that over the last year it has answered 84% of calls within this time, up four percentage points on the previous year.

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