Charity Commission Complaints Procedure Template - How To Complain About The Charity Commission Or Report A Concern About A Charity

This guide provides advice on Charity Commission complaints - how to complain about them, or to report a concern about a charity, including how to do that well, the procedures and free templates that you can use, including Decision Reviews and the Charity Tribunal

Charity Commission Complaints Procedures

The best organisations respond quickly and constructively to complaints, but not all do.  This resource explains the Charity Commission complaints procedures and how to:

  1. Complain about and report a charity to the Charity Commission.
  2. Complain about the Charity Commission.

The third section has templates for complaints and to obtain information for your complaint. 

If you're a charity, consider joining the Charity Excellence online toolkit.  You can health check your charity in half a day, including assessing you compliance with regulations and how well you keep everyone safe from harm, and its huge resource base has links to free help, resources and downloadable complaints and whistleblowing procedures.  It takes 2 mins, is completely free, works for even the smallest charity and requires no expertise to use - Register Now.   

And as almost all charities are poorly funded, it also has the Funding Finder charitable trusts and foundations database. 

HOW TO REPORT A CHARITY TO THE CHARITY COMMISSION

Except for serious issues, it's always best to try and resolve your concern informally.  This section explains how to do that and also how to report a charity to the Charity Commission and/or other regulators.

Complaints To Charities

You should complain to the charity in the first instance, unless you suspect illegal activity, in which case you may wish to consider calling the Police (Tel:101). 

You could simply phone or talk to a member of the charity.  Charities exist to help people and the vast majority will respond positively and do their best to resolve your issue. 

If that doesn't work, or you feel unable to, or for more serious issues many, will have a complaints procedure, which you can ask for. If you are a staff member, you should use the grievance procedure, or in certain circumstances for specific serious issues, the whistleblowing procedure (Public Disclosure Act).  If you need advice, you could contact the Acas helpline

See below for a complaints template. 

Charity Commission Reporting Procedure

Complain to the Charity Commission if a charity is, for example:

  1. Not doing what it claims to do.
  2. Losing lots of money.
  3. Harming people.
  4. Being used for personal profit or gain.
  5. Involved in illegal activity.

Here's what you should do to:

  1. Make a serious incident report, if you are a trustee. 
  2. Report serious wrongdoing, if you're a charity worker or volunteer.
  3. Report a concern, if you're an auditor or independent examiner.
  4. To report a serious concern, for anyone else. 

There are different regulators and slightly different reporting procedures in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other Regulators. There are a whole range of regulators, either for sectors, such as education, health and social care, to specific activities such as data protection and health and safety.   

Parliamentary Ombudsman. You can ultimately take your concern to the Ombudsman, but not until you have completed other complaint processes

HOW TO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE CHARITY COMMISSION

This section explains the different ways to submit a complaint to the Charity Commission and the additional steps you can take if your compliant isn't addressed. 

Charity Commission Complaints Procedure

You should complain to the Commission within 3 months of the event or outcome that you are complaining about.  See below for advice on how to make an effective complaint.  You need to tell them what you think:

  • Went wrong.
  • They should do to put it right.

The Commission aims to respond within 30 working days.  If they don't, send them a hastener. 

If you are not satisfied, with their response to your complaint, you have 1 month to ask for it to be reviewed by a member of the Records, Information, Governance & Assurance (RIGA) team.

If you remain unsatisfied, you can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.  You need to make your complaint to an MP within a year of when you became aware of the problem. The MP then needs to pass your complaint to the P&HSO for you.  You can complain if the Commission has not acted properly or fairly or has given you a poor service and not put things right.  If the P&HSO decides that they have got things wrong that have had a negative effect on you, it can recommend what the Commission should do about this.  You can contact the P&HSO on 0345 015 4033.

Charity Commission Decision Review Appeal

If you are unhappy with a Charity Commission decision, such as refusing registration of your charity, it might be worth responding immediately asking for them to reconsider.  This may be worth doing, if you are quickly able to respond to any issues they have raised, or they have simply got it wrong.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. 

The next step is to seek a decision review.   This will reconsider the original decision to determine whether it is legitimate and justifiable within the facts and circumstances of the case. At the end of the review the Commission will clearly explain its decision and what further action, if any, it will take.  The Commission’s instructions to its own staff on managing a decision review can be found in its operational guidance OG 736-1

You do not need to go through the decision review process before applying to the First Tier (Charity) Tribunal. 

1st Tier (Charity) Tribunal Appeal

The First Tier Tribunal (often called the Charity Tribunal) enables charities to challenge a decision by the Commission and, if found in your favour, to direct the Charity Commission to act. 

You do not need to be a lawyer to submit an application and there is no cost in doing so.  I've twice submitted applications and the Commission conceded on both occassions, even before it went to a hearing.  However, obviously legal advice really helps.  You can find links to organisations that provide pro bono legal support on the Free Goods and Services page. 

You should submit your application within 42 days of the decision you wish to appeal, but you can ask for an extension of this.

You can find the guidance on the Tribunal here and there's also this comprehensive video by Law Works

You can contact them by phone (020 3936 8963) or e mail grc@justice.gov.uk. I've found them to be very helpful. 

Help With Charity Commission Complaints

The Charity Tribunal staff, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Parliamentary Ombudsman all provide advice and help.  All 3 are external bodies that are able to hold the Commission accountable.  You may also be able to take legal action through the courts, but for most of us that probably isn't an option - seek legal advice, if you think it is.   

I provide a friendly, low cost service, if you wish your Charity Commission queries responded to, or a decision challenged.  I’ve never failed to register a charity and 100% of fees are used to help fund the Charity Excellence charity.  Details here.  However, I am not a lawyer, so not competent to offer professional opinion.  If you need legal advice, then you should seek it.  You can find a number of organisations that provide pro bono legal advice on the free Goods and Services page.

TEMPLATES

If you think you need more information, you may submit a subject access request and/or, for public authorities, a freedom of information request.  I've inserted 2 templates to help you below.  

Complaint Template

You may well feel angry, but the purpose of your complaint is to get the get the charity of Charity Commission to address your concern, so you need to make your case politely and well. Besides, you might be wrong?  

The majority of issues I deal with are about charity registration, so I've used this as an example that may be helpful in making a compliant. 

  • Be clear about what the issue is and support this with facts/evidence/argument.
    • On date x, the Commission refused our application, on the basis of y, but did not take properly into account a, b, and c from our e mail of date d.
    • There is often more than one basis for refusal, so respond to each in turn.
  • Do not state your opinion as fact
    • Not, the Commission is totally useless.
    • But, in my opinion, the Charity Commission is totally useless. But!
  • Do not use inflammatory or threatening language either.
    • In my view, the Commission has been unreasonable and is wrong
  • Consider taking any reasonable action to address the Commission's issues.
    • For example, changing or strengthening any relevant procedures, or policies you may have submitted, or propose a change in your object(s).
    • And/or provide additional information, or clarify anything the Commission says is unclear. 
  • Be clear and realistic about what you want the Commission to do in response.
    • Not, we demand the Commission pay us the £100k in lost funding...........
    • But, we wish to Commission to apologise and to register our charity within the next 30 days. 

When I write something when I'm angry, or which I think may not go down well, I never send it immediately.  Instead, I leave it for a day or so and then read it again and redraft it.  Sometimes extensively!  Alternatively, ask someone you know to read your draft complaint and give you honest feedback on how you might improve it, based on the points above.  

Subject Access Request - Procedure & Template

You have the right to ask the Charity Commission, or another organisation, whether or not they are using or storing your personal information. You can also ask them for copies of your personal information, verbally or in writing.

This is called the right of access and is commonly known as making a subject access request or SAR.  You can find the ICO guidance here.  The Commission's own guidance is here and they may require you to provide proof of identity.  You should receive a response within 30 days.  Here's an e mail template that I've used.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to make a subject access request in respect of myself.  That is any information held about me, either as <name>, or as a director/trustee of <organisation>, including any derivatives, or other names relating to myself. 

This documentation may include the names of other charity volunteers; <names>. They have given their consent for this to be released and are copied in, in case you may wish specific consent from them.  However, for them, or any other individuals, you are welcome to redact their personal information, prior to sending the document to me.  

I wish all information held to be sent to me, except that for which I am an addressee and already have this.  In the event that you consider any of this to be exempt from disclosure, please identify the nature and purpose of this, and the basis on which you believe it to be exempt.

I have provided one form of proof of identity and one form of proof of address.  I look forward to receiving this information within the Commission’s 28 day deadline.

Send it to RIGA@charitycommission.gov.uk

The Charity Commission has to respond to your request within one month.  If you have made a number of requests or your request is complex, they may need extra time to consider your request and they can take up to an extra two months to respond.  If they are going to do this, they should let you know within one month that they need more time and why.  If they don't respond, hasten them. 

If they do not provide some/all of the information, you should complain to them and, if still unsatisfied, you can complain to the ICO. They have a dedicated help service for small organisations that you can contact for help and advice. 

Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Request - Procedure & Template

You may ask for any information that is held by a public authority.  Here is the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) guidance on how to do that and below is an e mail template that I have used. 

Dear Sir/Madam,

Please provide all information, including any notes, minutes, email or other correspondence, relating to the ........................ and any other derivative names that refer to the organisation.   

The charity registration application (number .....................) was submitted on <date>.   

The individuals/departments whom we are aware have been involved in this case are names/appointments..........................  There may well be others.  We wish all information held to be sent to us. In the event that you consider any of this to be exempt from disclosure to us, please identify the nature and purpose of this, and the basis on which you believe it to be exempt.

.................................... are the trustees of the charity.  They have given their consent that any personal information regarding themselves may be released under this FOIA request. I have copied them in, as verification of this.  If you require it, please contact them and they will send any relevant consent needed immediately. 

We would prefer to receive this in digital form.  In the event that the documentation is too large to be sent by e mail, we would be content to receive this as a zip file, by file transfer, or other method.   If there are documents only in hard copy, please send these to the following address .......................

We look forward to your response within the next 20 days, thank you.

For the Charity Commission, e Mail your application to FOIRequests@charitycommission.gov.uk. They should respond within 20 working days.  If they don't, send them a hastener. 

There are various exemptions that may entitle the Commission to not release information.  You can find details here.  In 2020, the Charity Commission fully responded to the lowest proportion of freedom of information requests.  That's not exactly reassuring.  If they refuse to release some or all of the information, you can appeal against the decision and, if they still do not, you can complain to the ICO.  The ICO has a dedicated help service for small organisations that you can contact for help and advice. 

Let's Leave The Last Word To The Charity Commission

The CEO of the Charity Commission published a blog on 10 Jan 22, in which she said: 

 .......we must continue to regulate charities proportionately, robustly and transparently, and further improve the experiences charities have when they engage with us.

If you feel you haven't been treated proportionately or your experience hasn't been all that good, you could always quote her.  I'm sure they'd wlecome your thoughts to help them achieve their aims in 2022. 

And if your complaint is about charity registration, go to my guide on this, which includes the Charity Commission's targets and reported performance, which may be useful for you.

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