Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Douglas G Cracknell, LLB, barrister (CHB 12)

1. On 10 December 2014 I submitted written evidence to the Draft Protection of Charities Bill Joint Committee as follows:

Whistleblowers play an important part in the protection of any organisation from misconduct and mismanagement.

I believe that volunteers, including volunteer trustees, should have a right to be heard and supported should they feel that misconduct and mismanagement within their charity need to be addressed. At present, the Charity Commission has the power to intervene, but it does not have the duty to do so. I suggest that volunteer whistleblowers be entitled to a hearing and support from the Charity Commission, unless the charity concerned has procedures in place making these things possible within the charity itself and the whistleblower is satisfied that, by following those procedures, his concerns have been considered and resolved, as may be necessary, and the Charity Commission has been informed of any wrongdoing that has been established which it would regard as a serious incident.

At present, charities may suffer from misconduct and mismanagement by trustees or anyone else within the charity simply because nobody, including the Charity Commission, has the duty to hear and support volunteers who feel that it is their duty to bring these things to light.

2. On 24 November 2015, the Charity Commission replied to my enquiry as follows:

Thank you for drawing attention to your submission to the joint committee, proposing the introduction of rights for charity volunteers when they blow the whistle to us.  Whilst we entirely agree that whistleblowers play a valuable role in effective regulation, we would not have supported a proposal along these lines.  We do, however, think it is important that charities have adequate systems in place for anyone connected with the charity to raise concerns and this is something we hope to cover more widely in the guidance we give to trustees.  We will also take account of your suggestion about the scope for more of a link between concerns raised internally and reporting these as serious incidents if and when we review our policy in that area.

3. My comment today on the Charity Commission’s above response:

I find it impossible to see why volunteers, who often (for example, but not only, as trustees) accept enormous responsibilities, should not enjoy basic human rights while carrying out that work. Should a volunteer feel the need to blow the whistle, his or her concerns will be heard, and he or she will be supported, only if the charity concerned makes such provision for volunteers in its complaints/grievance procedures or the charity’s trustees or the Charity Commission (or the Attorney General) decide or decides to hear and support that person. Without that hearing and support, the possibility of a contribution to effective regulation is likely to be lost.

It may be that the Charity Commission fears that it would be overwhelmed by whistleblowers should something on the lines of my proposal be enacted, but this would surely depend on the steps taken by the Commission to encourage or require charities, perhaps only those above a certain size, to make provision for whistleblowers to be heard and supported.

It seems that there are many volunteers who have discovered what it means to be without basic human rights in their work for a charity and, I am sad to say, I am one of them. Subject to safeguards, I would be pleased to share my experiences with the present committee should its members so wish.

December 2015

 

Prepared 4th January 2016