A new report by Populus - Trust and Confidence in the Charity Commission - reveals disquiet over the way in which the regulator has dealt with high-profile issues.
Most of the regulator's stakeholders - composed of senior government officials, figures from charities, umbrella bodies and professional advisors - have "concerns that the organisation has at times appeared politically driven and subjective in its treatment of particular high-profile incidents," stated the report.
It added: "Some believe that the Charity Commission has occasionally overreacted to media narratives, inadvertently damaging public perception of the charity sector."
Some argue that its reactions have sometimes taken a "political" angle at odds with its independence and objectivity. They commonly cite its guidance on the EU referendum and its reaction to incidents involving Islamic charities as examples.
Trust and Confidence in the Charity Commission report by Populus
The report said: "Some argue that its reactions have sometimes taken a "political" angle, at odds with its independence and objectivity. They commonly cite its guidance on the EU referendum and its reaction to incidents involving Islamic charities as examples."
The regulator was accused of attempting to gag charities during the EU Referendum after issuing what the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations described as "alarming" guidance.
And the Commission has been repeatedly attacked in recent years over what critics claim is a "disproportionate" crackdown on Muslim charities.
Its chair, Sir William Shawcross, has previously been condemned for his remarks that protecting charities from "Islamist abuse" is one of the Commission’s top priorities.
We make no apology for acting on public concerns including those aired in the media, often difficult issues like extremism, poor safeguarding practice and high-profile governance failures
Sarah Atkinson, Charity Commission director of policy and communications
In a blog responding to the report’s findings, Sarah Atkinson, the Commission’s director of policy and communications, said: "We make no apology for acting on public concerns including those aired in the media, often difficult issues like extremism, poor safeguarding practice and high-profile governance failures."
The report, released last month, also revealed that the trust placed by people in the Charity Commission remains stuck at six out of ten – with zero meaning they do not trust it at all and a score of ten indicating that people completely trust the Commission.
And there has been a decline in those agreeing that charities are effectively regulated - from 65 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent now, with "an increasing appetite for the Commission to do more," stated the report.
Atkinson admitted that in presenting the research, she was "publicly acknowledging that we have to strive still harder across all fronts."
The work of the comms team has not been made any easier by years of cuts to the Charity Commission’s budget, which has been slashed by £8 million since 2010 and is frozen at around £20m until 2020, which equates to a cut in real terms.
Analysis of our casework shows no bias with regards to religion, or any other charitable purpose, and we seek to report on our casework accurately and fairly.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman
The Charity Commission told PRWeek that it had restructured its comms team in recent months with the aim of enhancing its public and stakeholder-facing output.
A spokeswoman said: "As a result of the changes, the new media relations team, which focuses on public-facing communications, has more resource and expertise to work with mainstream and consumer media, reaching audiences that we haven’t necessarily reached in the past. The aim is precisely to raise awareness of our role in regulating charities, and in so doing to uphold public trust in the sector."
The Commission said it had been asked to produce guidance for charities from the early stages of the EU referendum in which it set out "thresholds" to justify their involvement in the debate and reminded them that any political activity must support the charity’s core purpose.
The spokeswoman added: "Analysis of our casework shows no bias with regards to religion, or any other charitable purpose, and we seek to report on our casework accurately and fairly. The Commission is the independent regulator of charities - independent of government and the sector we regulate - we cherish that independence and guard it fiercely."
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