Policy, campaigns & research, Trustees, Law

DSC consultation response on suggested changes to the Charity Commission’s Annual Return 2018

In England and Wales, all charities above £10,000 income and all Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs) must complete an Annual Return (AR). This includes key data that helps populate the online register of charities. The Charity Commission has been consulting the sector on planned changes to the Annual Return 2018.

The Charity Commission is moving to a new system for 2018 that will be paired with a new online Update Charity Detail (UCD) function. This will allow continual updating of basic charity information, like trustee names and contact details. In response to the Charity Commission’s consultation on the proposed changes, DSC looked at how these changes might impact smaller charities and their trustees in particular.

In addition to responding to the specific questions, we recommended that the Charity Commission:

  • Have a longer-term, planned use for any additional data it requests (rather than asking for the sake of it, or because there may be short-term media interest, for example).
  • Carefully consider whether the phrasing of questions, or the ways they may potentially be (incorrectly) interpreted and answered is likely to return robust and useable data.
  • Ensure any questions asked are proportionate, and do not add an unjustifiable regulatory burden (or have little tangible benefit relative to the burden imposed).
  • Seek data in formats which is already compiled elsewhere (for example in charity accounts). Avoid questions which require extra computation or ‘legwork’.
  • Clearly define key terms (such as ‘professional fundraising’) not just in the AR, but wherever subsequent data is publicly displayed (for example, if it appears on the online register of charities). This helps to clarify and contextualise information.
  • Ensure accessible help for respondents, especially those which might have limited online access or ‘online literacy’ – for example: helpline, web chat, written guidance. Quick links to relevant definitions within the body of the online form are useful.
  • Provide a short-term additional helpline specifically for questions on the AR18 and new UCD system immediately after its release with an accessible, staffed number.
  • Collect feedback on the new system, including tracking the time it takes charities to fill out the new AR, and benchmarking this with data for the previous AR. This should be done using a large and diverse sample.
  • Communicate the importance to charities of supplying accurate information in a timely manner, whilst enabling and supporting charities to do so.
  • Clearly explain the reasons for collecting the data, the robustness of the Commission’s research methodology and how findings might be used in the future. Also, any relevant data protection issues and to whom research findings will be available (for example, aggregated analysis, or in specific fields on the register).

You can download our full consultation response and read more on what you need to know about the proposed changes.