Burdens on the Big Society

If  Big Society initiatives are to stand a chance of succeeding against a backdrop of massive cuts in public spending, it needs to be as easy as possible for people to start new charities and voluntary groups.

We are committed to bringing a clear vision to the sector that will mean charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations are easier to run and not overwhelmed by interference and bureaucracy.”

Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, 18 May 2010

Someone should have told HMRC, which has just  introduced a new set of regulations for people running charities. Every time you appoint a new trustee (director) to a charity board, you already need to notify the Charity Commission and Companies House through separate processes. At least these processes are familiar and online.

But now HMRC also wants to be notified of every new trustee appointment, and anyone else responsible for running the charity, so it can check that they are “fit and proper persons”, through a paper form. So charities will need to fill out a third form for a third regulator with each new appointment.

The new rules will mean millions of extra working hours spent form-filling for HMRC rather than delivering public benefit. This is exactly the kind of unnecessary bureaucracy that the “Big Society” agenda should be weeding out.

If HMRC has concerns that any given charity is being used for tax fraud, it should share intelligence with the Charity Commission (or other regulators) to investigate. If HMRC’s concerns are well-founded, the charity will be misapplying its assets, and the Commission can step in. If not, no action need be taken, and no forms need be filled.

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