Charity obligations and FOI

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Philip Benstead
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Charity obligations and FOI

Postby Philip Benstead » 10 Jan 2016, 4:46pm

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Charity obligations
Published at 12:01AM, January 8 2016
Many charities will find that fulfilling FoI requirements diverts scarce re-sources
Sir, Charities embrace the principles of transparency as should all organisations in re-ceipt of public money (“Ministers to put charities in spotlight with new FoI laws,” Jan 8). This includes the private sector, which receives the majority of government funding through contracts. Charity leaders would welcome any opportunity to explore with government how accountability might be extended.
However, many organisations would find the FoI Act an obligation that diverts resources in a way most of us would not wish. Is it really sensible to extend this act to churches, sports clubs, universities and the thousands of organisations who rely on volunteers alone? Most of these will get some public money.
Extending the act is a blunderbuss approach which would divert resources from the front line, an effect quite contrary to the government’s expressed insistence that this is a priority.
Sir Stephen Bubb
Chief executive, Association of
Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations
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Peter Hobday4 hours ago
One of the principle issues with charities is the remuneration of chief executives. Without full trans-parency, the sector will remain under fire. There are hundreds of highly qualified people who would be willing to donate time to help run charities free of charge. That is a step all charities should make.
And as for FOI, why not charge for an executive's time for supplying information? A fixed rate should be introduced. That is what happens in business with due diligence. It's 'freedom of information', not 'free information'.
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Mr R Bloxham54 minutes ago
@Peter Hobday I never give money or goods to charity. Instead, I give my time and expertise FOC to the one that I support.
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Mr B Rayden5 hours ago
Yes, indeed charities should be transparent and subject the the FoIA: far too many charities provide 'jobs for the boys and girls' at ridiculously high salaries while having the cheek to solicit donations form those on low incomes to subsidise greedy executives. The more these excesses are publicised the more the public will refuse to go along with it.
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David Edwards16 hours ago
If an organisation gets public money (including taking advantage of tax breaks) that is sufficient jus-tification for the accountability to the public that FOI achieves.
Of course, clubs etc. don't have to organise themselves as charities. Maybe the solution is for small clubs which don't really benefit the general public to have a window of opportunity to avoid FOI by relinquishing their charity privileges.
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Charles Borthwick17 hours ago
Sir Stephen bubbles on because he is paid to do so.
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Mr B Rayden5 hours ago
I wonder how much Bubb is paid? Here is an extract from the accounts of ACEVO:-
There was one employee who earned between £100,000 and £110,000 in the year (2014: one). Pen-sion contributions for these employees totalled £12,233 (2014: £11,742).
So probably about £120,000 pa then:- no wonder he doesn't want us to know! And what oth-er charities are paying him)


SOME COMMENT from John Meudell former CTC Councillor SE England
Actually, the debate could be blessing in disguise. Leaving aside the fact that, effectively, the Act does apply to Charities receiving money from public organizations, it will encourage them to be more open with providing information to their directors, trustees, members, supporters and donors.

As I said, and have found, CTC management has been very good at hiding information from councillors, even. But, if that information is generated in connection with a contract with a public sector organization it is already subject to the Act, however the onus is on the public sector organization to produce the information. This is something I have used to identify misuse of CTC members funds in connection with the Cycle Training Contract…..information I had requested from CTC management but which was stonewalled for the best part of a year. So I don’t see a problem with the system as it currently operates….if you know how to use it.

There may be another way out, however, in that the Charities Commission could introduce a Code of Practice which would compel Charitable organizations to provide information to trustees and the other stakeholders “on demand”.

That would, at least, obviate the need for some requests whilst, at the same time, avoid some of the abuse of position we have seen in a number of charities over the years. And obviate some of the requirement to extend FoI to charities……..

No confidence that sense will prevail, however………….
Philip Benstead | Life Member Former CTC Councillor/Trustee
Organizing events and representing cyclist in southeast since 1988
Bikeability Instructor/Mechanic

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Philip Benstead
Posts: 1417
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Location: Victoria , London

Re: Charity obligations and FOI

Postby Philip Benstead » 10 Jan 2016, 10:20pm

Philip Benstead | Life Member Former CTC Councillor/Trustee
Organizing events and representing cyclist in southeast since 1988
Bikeability Instructor/Mechanic

Psamathe
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Joined: 10 Jan 2014, 8:56pm

Re: Charity obligations and FOI

Postby Psamathe » 10 Jan 2016, 10:41pm

I think the issue of openness and in particular staff salaries (at the top end) is becoming increasingly important when it comes to encouraging public donations. My parents (who have always regularly donated to charities - on a case by case basis rather than e.g. standing order/direct debit) will now only give to small volunteer based charities as they are quite "disappointed" about some of the rather high salaries reported by some national charities (and unfortunately many maybe not guilty get lumped in with the same reputation).

Of course, charities getting most of their income from "captive audiences" and government (e.g. CTC ?) would not be subject to such impacts.

Personally I think charities receiving government (taxpayers) money should be subject to FOI, certainly for projects or areas where that public money has been spent. I cannot see that the cost of responding is much of an argument as I understood (maybe incorrectly) that if significant work was involved in responding to an FOI request the department/group can make reasonable charges to cover their costs.

Ian

TonyR
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Joined: 31 Aug 2008, 12:51pm

Re: Charity obligations and FOI

Postby TonyR » 10 Jan 2016, 11:51pm

Psamathe wrote:Personally I think charities receiving government (taxpayers) money should be subject to FOI, certainly for projects or areas where that public money has been spent. I cannot see that the cost of responding is much of an argument as I understood (maybe incorrectly) that if significant work was involved in responding to an FOI request the department/group can make reasonable charges to cover their costs.


If the FoI request would take more than 18 person-hours of work to respond to you don't need to respond and there are lots of other exemptions that can apply.

As for cost, the cost to central Government of FoI is 0.0016% of its total budget. Even for local councils its 0.03% so cost really isn't an issue or an argument for not using it to have transparency on what happens to people's donations and the tax breaks they enjoy.

irc
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Location: glasgow

Re: Charity obligations and FOI

Postby irc » 11 Jan 2016, 6:22am

Yes. Take govt cash? Take FOI.

(for govt cash read taxpayers cash)

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Philip Benstead
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Re: Charity obligations and FOI

Postby Philip Benstead » 12 Jan 2016, 12:04am

Freedom of Information Act - how can it affect charities?
Charities are not generally subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but their information may still be at risk of disclosure.

The FOIA gives members of the public a right to request information held by public bodies. As the Charity Commission is a public body subject to the FOIA, information which a charity shares with the Commission could end up being disclosed by the Commission should it receive a request under FOIA. This could result in the disclosure of sensitive information about a charity, (eg information about its financial health and future plans).

Individuals may use the FOIA to request information from the Commission if they are in dispute with a charity or if they object to how the charity is being managed. For example, if a charity has applied to the Commission to broaden its objects, anyone who wished to object to this might make a FOIA request to the Commission to force disclosure of any submission made by the charity. The individual could use this information either to pick holes in the charity's case for amending its objects or as part of an appeal against any decision by the Commission to allow the objects to be changed.

When the Commission receives a FOIA request for information held about a particular charity, it will usually write to the charity giving it an opportunity to state whether any exemptions from disclosure would apply. However, it should be borne in mind that the Commission has complete discretion with regard what information it discloses.

The Commission will usually take account of any representations made by a charity, as long as the reasons fall within at least one of the statuary exemptions from disclosure, as set out in the FOIA. Any such representations should be as specific and as persuasive as possible. For example, a charity may wish to argue that a report which recognises the risk of a loss in funding is exempt from disclosure because it is commercially sensitive.

It would not usually be sufficient for the charity simply to state that fact. Instead the charity would need to set out clearly and precisely why the disclosure would prejudice its commercial interests. Such reasons might include the fact that the disclosure of the report would cause a loss of confidence and cause third parties to cease contracting with the charity resulting in a negative effect on the charity's revenue and growth prospects.

Many of the FOIA exemptions are subject to the public interest test. This means that the charity will not only have to show that an exemption is engaged in order to make use of it but that withholding the information is in the public's interest.

Information held by the Commission in connection with a statutory inquiry is subject to a specific exemption under the Act. In the next edition of 'Charities law brief' we will report on a recent Supreme Court decision concerning the application of this exemption.

For further information, or for assistance in dealing with FOIA requests and making submissions to the Commission as to why information is exempt from disclosure, please contact Andrew Gallie on 0117 314 5623.

- See more at: http://www.vwv.co.uk/what-s-happening/p ... 5XRE4.dpuf
Philip Benstead | Life Member Former CTC Councillor/Trustee
Organizing events and representing cyclist in southeast since 1988
Bikeability Instructor/Mechanic