Regulator: Charities need to 'listen and learn' when complaints are made

The Charity Commission has urged charities to 'listen and learn' when complaints are made to them, amid concerns many charities are 'ignoring or dismissing' issues.

The regulator's warning to charities came as part of its review of complaints and reports about charities that fall below the threshold for regulatory action.

Its review comes amid criticism that the regulator failed to follow up on complaints made about the Alzheimer's Society in 2018 regarding bullying and payouts to staff.

The regulator admitted it made a mistake in failing to follow up on the complaints, despite its 2018-2023 strategy commitment to ensure 'no complaint is ignored'.

The watchdog said people who complain to the regulator often do so because they “felt their concerns had been ignored or dismissed” by the charity, adding that where a charity doesn’t respond appropriately to concerns or does not demonstrate genuine accountability in its public reports and accounts it risks generating “suspicion and frustration”.

According to its review, most complaints typically come from people invested in a charity – including beneficiaries, supporters, volunteers and trustees – and relate to issues that affect them personally.

It added that it "isn’t the case that people only complain about a few large household name charities”.

The report highlighted the importance of recognising the heightened expectations people have of the behaviour and attitudes demonstrated by those involved in charity and responding accordingly to questions and concerns.

It cited, in particular, poorly managed or handled conflicts of interest as a source of concern and suspicion.

"Charity can and should lead the way in taking public expectations seriously. If you’re a charity, that includes showing that you take complaints and concerns seriously, and are responding appropriately," Charity Commission CEO Helen Stephenson said.

"This review demonstrates that these high expectations are shared by those close to you: your own beneficiaries, volunteers, staff, supporters and trustees – and that, if they complain, by responding well in the first place, you can help avoid matters being brought to the regulator’s attention. I hope this review helps empower charities to take preventative steps that avoid complaints, and to respond with care when problems do arise."

Today’s report is the first thematic review of complaints the Commission has conducted under its new strategy; the regulator says it will undertake future reviews that may explore other themes and issues.

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