Regulator pledges to act amid 'institutional arrogance' claims

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) has pledged to publish an action plan on how it will improve the way it regulates charities.

This follows a report detailing concerns from two charities investigated by the regulator.

The report found that those directly impacted by orders and decisions made by the regulator “remained deeply aggrieved” and are continuing to pursue complaints about the way it handles cases and its treatment of those involved.

The Commission is accused of “institutional arrogance” by those involved in the cases, says the report, which has been carried out by an independent Counsel. This has been focused on the Commission’s regulation of the charities Lough Neagh Rescue and Disabled Police Officers’ Association of Northern Ireland.

The report found that: “Whilst the orders that were made in respect of the individuals may all have been found to be unlawful, the treatment of individuals by the CCNI remains an area of hurt for the individuals.”

Recommendations

Among recommendations made is for the Commission to ensure it puts in place “supportive measures” to “minimise any disruptive effects and maximise the chance of a successful outcome for the charity and its beneficiaries”.

The regulator should also consider “what more could be done” to improve its awareness of individual charity issues and to intervene earlier.

Cost to a charity of decisions made by the regulator also need to be factored in.

It is also urged to ensure that its communications with charities are “sufficiently detailed and provide adequate rationale for any requests of outcomes”.

One individual said that the regulator was motivated by “simple hatred towards the disabled”, although the report says “there is insufficient evidence to support” this.

The report recommends the regulator to do more to help charities “to improve or maintain diversity and inclusion” when investigations take place.

Chief charity commissioner's response

“It is clear from the review, and previous communications, that some individuals feel extremely hurt and aggrieved by the actions taken in these particular investigatory cases,” said Nicole Lappin, chief charity commissioner for Northern Ireland.

“I am sorry to hear of the impact the inquiries had on the individuals involved and I am grateful for the time and openness they have demonstrated in speaking to independent Counsel during the review process.”

She added: “I hope, as we look to the future, this work will support the Commission in improving it’s processes and communications, while also assuring those who participated in the review that their voices have been heard, that Commissioners and staff care greatly about their experiences and are working to set right where things may have gone wrong in the past.”

Lough Neagh Rescue was subject to a statutory inquiry by the regulator between May 2013 and January 2015. The unrelated inquiry into the Disabled Police Officers’ Association of Northern Ireland took place between February 2014 and March 2016. These were among the fist cases undertaken by the regulator.

The review, of complaints arising from the regulator’s handling of the cases, started in February 2021.

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