Press release: Charity regulator launches updated essential guidance for trustees

The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities, has published the new version of its guidance ‘The essential trustee’, the key guidance for all charity trustees in England and Wales. The guidance explains what the regulator expects of trustees and outlines their responsibilities, and is one of the most widely read and used pieces of commission guidance on GOV.UK.

The new version aims to make it easier for trustees to understand their key legal duties and avoid many of the basic errors that often lead to serious problems. The guidance is clearer, shorter, includes links to other guidance, and sets out lessons from the commission’s work. The guidance also comes with an at-a-glance summary for trustees.

The new essential trustee guide aims to help trustees to be confident about fulfilling their responsibilities as a trustee, and is designed to help trustees make decisions as a team. But for those trustees who don’t take their legal duties seriously enough, the guidance is the standard against which they will be measured.

The new guidance was presented yesterday at a public meeting in Birmingham attended by nearly 100 charity trustees, staff and professionals.

Speaking at the public meeting William Shawcross, Chairman of the commission said;

Trustees are the backbone of charities; without their tireless efforts many organisations would not achieve all that they do. We want trustees to feel confident in knowing what their duties are and empowered to carry them out. I hope this new clearer guidance will help them do just that. I encourage all trustees to read it, all prospective trustees to read it and for the charity sector itself to join us in promoting this as far and as wide as possible, because it is in all our interests that trustees understand their roles better.

Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) said:

Being a trustee is a serious responsibility, so it’s important that people are equipped with the right tools to help them. This document should be one of the very first things all trustees read. The new guidance is clearer and more concise than its predecessor, with a structure that’s easier to follow. These improvements and the added clarity are a result of the Charity Commission’s thoughtful consultation process, taking on board feedback and addressing our concerns.

‘The essential trustee’ explains a trustee’s role as six main duties:

  • ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit
  • comply with your charity’s governing document and the law
  • act in your charity’s best interests
  • manage your charity’s resources responsibly
  • act with reasonable care and skill
  • ensure your charity is accountable

This follows consultation with trustees and charity sector bodies through surveys and workshops. The commission has listened to the feedback it received from respondents and has made changes as a result. It says in the guidance that following good practice will help trustees to run their charity effectively, avoid difficulties and comply with their legal duties. However the commission expects trustees to be able to explain and justify their approach, particularly if they decide not to follow good practice.

The guidance also explains how to avoid several common mistakes. Many of the problems that the commission deals with on a day to day basis are caused by trustees not understanding their roles and responsibilities, and the guidance affirms that the commission recognises that most trustees are volunteers who sometimes make honest mistakes. Charity law generally protects trustees who have acted honestly and reasonably.

The guidance can be found on GOV.UK. Infographics and video will be used to promote the guidance widely to trustees of registered and unregistered charities.

Details of the results of the consultation on the Essential Trustee, which ran in 2014, can be found on GOV.UK
as an infographic.



Notes to Editors

  1. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales.

  2. We are the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:

    • charities know what they have to do
    • the public know what charities do
    • charities are held to account

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