Charity Commission changes: what you need to know

Make sure you're meeting these legal requirements for your charity

This year, a new Chief Executive, Paula Sussex, from a strong commercial background, joined not-quite-so-new Chairman William Shawcross at the head of the Charity Commission.

Whilst recent communications from the Commission may just set a different tone, rather than indicating a change of substance, there is no doubt that the Commission is serious about increasing its capability as a pro-active watchdog. It has even won additional funds from government, in these straightened times, to do just that.

In practice, for small charities such as Making Music members at the moment this does not translate into anything noticeably different in terms of the relationship with the Commission.

However, from the top down, charities who do not comply with Commission requirements (e.g. annual returns) are slowly being pursued, so this serves as a handy reminder that we should do all we can to comply with regulation, to avoid investigation but also to ensure that the public continue to hold the institution of the charity in high esteem and therefore continue to trust us with their donations.

There are a few easy compliance issues that a number of members, in our experience, stumble over:

  • Whether or not you are registered with the Charity Commission, if your group has charitable objectives, you are in effect a charity and therefore subject to Charity Commission regulation. Be sure you know what that means for your group and your committee who may therefore not be aware that they are trustees.
  • If your income is over £5,000 and your group has charitable objectives, it is not a matter of choice: you have to register with the Charity Commission. Making Music can help you with that and our new model constitution coming up very soon can make that even easier.
  • You need to submit your annual return and accounts 10 months after the end of your financial year, with no extension possible. If you don’t, anyone searching for your charity on the Commission’s website will see that you have not complied – this will not help your case if you’re applying for funding, for instance, or just fundraising (issue of public trust again – they want to see you are properly run).

And there are a number of changes coming up to annual returns which you will need to be aware of:

  1. From January 2015, there are some new questions to be answered by all charities in the new annual return. Find guidance on submitting your annual report and returns on the Charity Commission website.
  2. There are new Statements of Recommended Practice (SORPs) coming into effect for financial years starting on or after 1 January 2015. This applies to charities preparing accruals (not payments and receipts) accounts, but even so, smaller ones will see little change to what they are already doing, if they adopt the FRSSE version (applicable to those with a turnover of less than £6.5m). Find more information on the SORP website.

Need help? Here are three ways in which you could find it:

Directory of Social Change has just published an updated version of The Charity Treasurer’s Handbook by Gareth G Morgan (£16.95).

If you need a new Treasurer and struggle to fill this vacancy, you might want to look at, a database of members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) where you can upload vacancies and download CVs of suitable volunteers.

Making Music has a partnership agreement with the Charity Commission and may be able to give advice and offer resources, depending on your query. Contact us at