178.The Charity Commission’s written evidence to the Committee highlighted their limited resources, and the impact this has on their work:
On resources, with fewer than 300 permanent staff, dealing with 100,000 contact requests a year, regulating 950,000 trustee roles and 168,000 registered charities, including 17,000 of which who say they work internationally, we are limited in the proactive engagement we can have with individual charities and trustees.
179.These challenges have only intensified with the recent increase in serious incident reports relating to safeguarding. In January the Government agreed to grant the Charity Commission an uplift on their baseline funding of £5million from April 2018. However, this funding was awarded before the recent substantial rise in the number of reported safeguarding incidents. Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission told us:
it would be wrong for me not to alert you to the fact that the increase in demands on our services, the increase of public expectation, both on the sector and on charities, means that I will continue to make the case for us to be properly resourced so that we can meet the serious and complex cases that are coming into us.
180.The Charity Commission’s limited resources have been highlighted several times in other submissions to the Committee. UNITE the Union expressed concern in their written evidence about Government cuts to the Commission and called for an increase in resources for the Commission. Caroline Nursey, Chair of the Board of Bond, said in oral evidence said that the Commission’s resources “have been cut back very heavily over the last few years, and it is apparent that it has much less capacity to engage than it had 10 years ago”. DFID said in their written evidence, “[i]t will also be important in the longer-term that the Commission’s funding is adequate to ensure that it is able to meet its regulatory responsibilities amidst an increase in the reporting of safeguarding cases and public expectations in dealing with safeguarding cases”.
181.With regards to where extra funds might come from, Helen Stephenson said:
We will want to have that discussion, both with the Government, with Parliament and indeed with the sector, as to what is the right way to resource us effectively going forward, so that we can be sustainable, have long-term planning and we can both meet the requirements of the public and of charities.
184.In evidence to the Committee, the Charity Commission highlighted that the aid sector has regulatory challenges by virtue of its international nature:
The regulatory “gap” we would suggest is not in relation to UK authorities, it is more in relation to the interplay between different country jurisdictions, so a predatory individual’s ability to shop jurisdictions or move around aid agency to agency, perhaps because their conduct was not investigated criminally in a particular country or because someone’s conduct falls short of criminality in that country, and was not handled robustly in disciplinary proceedings, for example the person was “managed out” of one agency.
185.Considering the jurisdictional limits of the Charity Commission, Helen Evans called in her oral evidence for a dedicated regulator for the aid sector:
In terms of whether [the Charity Commission] are fit for purpose with the aid agencies, I personally think there needs to be a dedicated regulator, because their remit is within UK law. With these aid agencies, you might have an incident happen in country A, the victim is from country B, and the perpetrator is from country C and then moves onto another country. You need to work across multiple legal jurisdictions. That is a really big ask for the Charity Commission.
186.She also highlighted the fact that international aid agencies are much larger organisations with a much bigger scope than other UK charities:
If you contrast the average income for a charity, which I think is about £400,000, UK focused, versus Oxfam and Save the Children with £400 million, working across 90-plus countries, they are such different organisations to be regulating.
187.However, when we put this suggestion of a dedicated regulator for aid to the Commission, they suggested that there are other models for regulating across jurisdictions that do not involve establishing another regulator. They gave the example of the Financial Action Task Force which tackles money laundering on a global level:
Formal standard setting and coordination has proved effective in tackling money laundering and terrorist financing through the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF). As an inter-governmental body, FATF sets agreed standards called “recommendations” and issues guidance and best practice to assist jurisdictions in their implementation of its standards. The body coordinates the conduct of peer reviews of its members on an ongoing basis and identifies non-cooperative countries or territories.
188.Caroline Nursey, Chair of the Board of Bond, resisted the suggestion of further external regulation on the basis that there is a danger it becomes a “tick-box” exercise. Instead she emphasised the importance of cultural change from within.
189.We have been told about an alternative model for external oversight in the aid sector, in the form of an aid ombudsman. As described by Asmita Naik, an ombudsman need not be “a major bureaucratic body that takes over everything that organisations should be doing”, but rather acts as a “right of appeal for victims and their advocates if they feel the internal processes do not provide them with redress”. She said that her experience of trying to provoke action from senior management on PSEA had led her to conclude that an ombudsman is necessary:
At the top of the organisation, there may be resistance. This is exactly what Helen [Evans] and I have experienced. We have been at the top of the aid hierarchy, as it were, in a UN aid agency, in an NGO. If you meet resistance then and an organisation fails to act, where do you go? This is the issue. From that point of view, that is why we need external oversight.
190.The proposal for an independent aid ombudsman has wider support within our evidence base. The Overseas Development Institute has championed the idea, arguing that self-regulation is weak in comparison, being “voluntary and non-binding”. UNA-UK sees value in the way that an independent ombudsman could review actions of the UN in response to SEA. Helen Evans also supports the idea, asserting that “what we have learnt from 2002 is that self-regulation does not work”. She added that an ombudsman:
can work but it is going to take resource—quite a lot of resource—to make it work. It is worth it, because one thing we have learnt from all of this is that we have to be accountable to those beneficiaries.
191.The idea, however, has also been met with scepticism. Caroline Nursey suggested that reaching beneficiaries would be challenging:
It is difficult to see how it could be made to work. If you are looking at beneficiaries in a particular country, it is difficult to see how they would find the way to make it work. Attempts are being made to put things in place on the ground for whistleblowing, communication between organisations and transparency. Yes, they can be made to work, but whether there could be an ombudsperson anywhere that would work, I do not know. The working groups are looking at it, but it is not clear how it would work at the moment.
192.The Secretary of State told us:
One of the issues why the ombudsman idea isn’t flying among other donor nations is because they feel it might replicate certain things that are in place. Not necessarily going in and investigating and having a team that can do that, but the global Charity Commission role, if I can call it that.
193.The shortcomings that we have observed within the aid sector during the course of this inquiry demonstrate to us that self-regulation has failed. Currently, when organisations fail to hold abusers to account, the victims and survivors have no other recourse to justice. An ombudsman is not a regulator. It would not be a ‘global Charity Commission’. It would provide a right of appeal, an avenue through which those who have suffered can seek justice by other means. Whilst other measures that we support, such as the global register for aid workers, are focused on the perpetrator, this is one measure which exists for the victim. We accept that reaching victims and survivors will be a challenge, and that this will cost money, but we adopt the view of DFID’s Permanent Secretary: just because something is difficult, it does not mean it should go in the “too difficult box”.
194.The aid sector must recognise the vital importance of establishing an independent aid ombudsman and take tangible steps towards making this a reality. DFID should play its part by ensuring that there is a sector-wide commitment on this at the International Safeguarding Conference in October and by facilitating the development of an action plan with agreed next steps for taking this forward.
306 The Charity Commission for England and Wales ()
309 UNITE the Union ()
311 Department for International Development ()
313 The Charity Commission for England and Wales ()
317 The Charity Commission for England and Wales ()
321 See, for example, Helen Evans (), Overseas Development Institute (), UNA-UK ()
322 Overseas Development Institute ()
323 UNA-UK ()
Published: 31 July 2018