Press release: Regulator launches consultation on ‘The essential trustee’

The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, is today launching a consultation on an updated draft of its guide to trustees’ duties, ‘The essential trustee (CC3)’.

The new draft follows recent commission guidance on decision making and conflicts of interest. The consultation is running until February, and the responses will shape the final version of the guidance.

The most significant change is a new explanation of what the commission expects of trustees. Commission guidance currently distinguishes between legal requirements (what trustees ‘must’ do) and minimum good practice standards that are not legal requirements (what trustees ‘should’ do).

The regulator wants to make it clearer that it expects trustees to comply with specified good practice unless they can justify not doing so (for example by complying in a different way). Whilst the commission will still recognise where trustees have made an honest mistake, trustees who fail to follow the specified good practice are at risk of breaching their legal duties.

If trustees do not follow the specified good practice:

  • the commission may ask trustees to explain and justify their decision
  • trustees may struggle to comply with their legal responsibilities
  • if something goes wrong as a result, trustees may be in breach of their legal duties and held responsible for any loss the charity incurs
  • the commission may treat this as evidence of misconduct or mismanagement

Other changes to ‘The essential trustee (CC3)’ include:

  • links to other guidance to avoid repetition
  • reflecting the commission’s current position and priorities as charity regulator
  • highlighting what can go wrong and how to avoid it
  • emphasising that the guidance is for all charity trustees, not just trustees of registered charities

Details on how to send comments are within the consultation.

Jane Hobson, Head of Policy at the Charity Commission, said:

The changes to our ‘Essential trustee’ guidance aim to make things clearer for trustees, and help them govern their charities better. It’s vital that trustees understand what we expect of them, and the revised guidance provides a clear, succinct and up to date picture. Trustees’ basic legal responsibilities have not changed, nor has our role as regulator. The changes around ‘must’ and ‘should’ shouldn’t affect most charity trustees, who already take their role seriously. It’s a case of trustees understanding that ‘should’ means ‘really should’ – not ‘maybe, if you feel like it’.

The commission is holding discussions with stakeholders about these changes and is keen to hear views from anyone with an interest in the governance of charities, as well as trustees and charities.

The closing date for responses to this consultation is 17 February 2015.


PR 96/14

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
  3. For technical reasons, the guidance document is only available in PDF format during the consultation. The final version will be published in both HTML and PDF format.

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