Commission issues regulatory alert to 187 military charities

A surge in the number of military charities established in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts has seen 187 new ones registered with the Charity Commission since 2007. Members of the public are concerned to support veterans and the plethora of new charities with that aim to which the public can now donate are generally well-intentioned. However, the Charity Commission has issued a regulatory alert to military charities, after its review of a sample of 21 of those recently registered revealed poor practice and management, particularly regarding safeguarding policies and procedures and adherence to fundraising regulations. Amongst evidence of undeniable help provided to many beneficiaries, insufficient financial controls were often found, along with other examples of governance failings, including the inadequate management of conflicts of interest and the lack of proper complaints procedures.

It is essential to maintain public trust and confidence in charities and the vital work they undertake. High-profile scandals in recent years have threatened this and the Commission was prompted to fix it sights on new military charities after negative reports in the media and social media.

Charity trustees have a duty to act in the best interests of their beneficiaries and that includes safeguarding them from harm or abuse. The limits of vulnerability extend beyond age or physical


disability and also encompass mental health. Veterans suffering from, for example, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are vulnerable and charities which exist to help them need to recognise this and have policies and procedures in place to protect them. These will include safer recruitment, Disclosure and Barring Service checks, safeguarding training and the implementation of reporting and monitoring systems.

Fundraising is an increasingly regulated area, with existing regulations strengthened by the introduction of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016. Charity fundraising needs to be controlled, monitored and properly overseen by trustees, who are expected to ensure that suitable systems are developed to help them exercise their oversight. The consequences of getting it wrong include reputational damage, from which it can be difficult to recover. The Code of Fundraising Practice, which is overseen by the Fundraising Regulator, sets out the standards expected of charitable fundraising organisations across the UK. Specific requirements apply where a charity engages with a professional fundraiser or a commercial partner, including the need to have in place a written agreement between the charity and the professional fundraiser or commercial partner and the contents of such agreement must be legally compliant.

Extensive guidance on these areas is available from the Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator, as well as through legal support, and the principles of good governance are espoused in the newly revised Charity Governance Code. Prospective donors are always encouraged to conduct due diligence on charities they plan to support by reviewing their entries on the Charity Commission’s website, including their annual reports and accounts. Cobseo – the Confederation of Service Charities – is working with the Charity Commission to address issues identified in military charities to ensure that this sector can continue its vital work to support the Armed Forces family effectively, safely and with public confidence.

This article was produced by Charities partner Jayne Adams.