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Prime Minister to increase Charity Commission powers to tackle ‘menace of extremism’

Prime Minister to increase Charity Commission powers to tackle ‘menace of extremism’

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday October 22 2014

The BBC, The Independent, The Guardian and local paper, Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News, report on the Prime Minister’s announcement to increase the powers of the Charity Commission by awarding the watchdog £8 million over three years to tackle charity abuse including the “menace of extremism”.

The announcement comes in the wake of the Extremism Taskforce meeting today chaired by the PM. In the Taskforce’s report last year, claims of extremist groups targeting charities were bandied about with proposals advanced to ‘strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission: these powers will help us tackle extremism, as well as other abuses of charitable status such as tax avoidance and fraud’.

A consultation launched by the Cabinet Office into new powers for the Charity Commission, and released on the same day as the Taskforce report, referred to cases where the watchdog acted upon ‘terrorism allegations’ though neither report attempted to substantiate the claim that charities were being abused for terrorism purposes.

Despite this, the Protection of Charities Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year and today’s announcement fleshes out the proposed powers for the Charity Commission. The powers include:

  • banning people with criminal convictions, such as terrorism or money laundering, from serving as a charity trustee
  • disqualifying a person from serving as a charity trustee where the Charity Commission considers them ‘unfit’
  • compelling charities to shut down in an inquiry into mismanagement (where allowing them to continue would risk undermining public trust and confidence in charities)
  • issuing official warnings in less serious cases and including this on the charity’s official record

BBC News further reports that, under the proposals, the Commission will also be able to freeze charity bank accounts and suspend or remove trustees although the press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office in relation to today’s announcement clarifies that these powers are already currently held by the regulator.

Thus far, the Commission has used its temporary and protective powers to launch statutory inquiries, freeze bank accounts and suspend trustees at a number of Muslim charities including Muslim Aid, Islamic Education and Research Academy, Children in Deen, and Al Fatiha Global. The disproportionate targeting of Muslim charities has further been exacerbated by the closure of Muslim charity bank accounts by financial institutions who claim that providing banking services “falls outside of our risk appetite”.

Moreover, the Draft Bill appears to be informed by the recent annual report into the operation of terrorism legislation by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Although Anderson recommended “a dialogue be initiated between international NGOs and policy makers”, he stated:

“The distribution of life-saving aid may carry a risk that some of those receiving aid include individuals who have been designated as terrorists, or who have links to designated individuals or groups.

“There are acute concerns within the charitable sector regarding banks withdrawing or curtailing services to NGOs, resulting in delays or obstacles to the transfer of funds… But the wider the net of terrorism is cast, the greater the chance that financial impediments will be placed in the way of positive and worthwhile NGO activity.”

Indeed, the Commission’s publishing of details of charities into which statutory inquiries have been launched has been criticised by Muslim charities for creating an aura of suspicion before any proven guilt and subsequently affecting a charity’s fundraising activity.

While the Government’s announcement is to be commended for attempting to maintain trust in the charitable sector the ‘perception of bias’ that has surfaced in recent months over the CC’s targeting of Muslim charities and the appointment of William Shawcross, a staunch supporter of the Iraq War and a former trustee of the Henry Jackson Society, as Charity Commission Chairman will do little to dispel fears that the proposed increase in powers will not be discriminatorily used against Muslim charities.


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