In September 2017, the Charity Commission announced a consultation on the content of the charity Annual Return for 2018 (AR18). The Commission has now published the results of that consultation in the form of the Charities (Annual Return) Regulations 2017, which came into force on New Year’s Day: the questions to be answered are listed in a Schedule to the Regulations.
AR18 applies to charities with financial years ending from 1 January 2018 and must be completed by all charities with annual incomes of £10,000 or more – unless they belong to one of the excepted denominations and have an annual income below £100,000. Charities have ten months from the end of their financial year in which to complete the return.
The Commission has amended its proposed new question on income from overseas: the only information that will be mandatory for the first year will be income from overseas governments or quasi-governmental bodies, charities and NGOs. Providing information about income from other overseas institutions and donors will be voluntary for AR18; however, it will become mandatory in following years. The Commission will also introduce a financial threshold for that information. The changes from the Commission’s original proposal are intended to ensure that charities will be able to update their records and systems before the question areas become compulsory.
The Commission has decided not to ask charities:
- whether they are claiming rate relief for the premises they use; and
- the amount of Gift Aid they have claimed.
AR18 will require charities to provide information about the total remuneration received by their staff members, including salary, bonuses, pension contributions, private health care and other benefits in kind. The Commission will make public how many individuals receive total packages worth upwards of £60,000 in bands (in bands of £10,000 up to £150,000, then in bands of £50,000). It will also require charities to provide information about their highest-paid employee, but that information will be held for regulatory purposes rather than being made public.
Some of the most controversial aspects of the original proposals have been moderated or dropped altogether. The issue of rate relief looked simple on the face of it, but several charities suggested that, in reality, it could prove extremely complicated to answer. On the issue of Gift Aid claims, I argued – as, no doubt, did others – that that was strictly a matter between individual charities and HMRC and none of the Charity Commission’s business.
But I still remain doubtful about the issue of staff remuneration. It is unlikely to affect many church charities, simply because few of them can afford to pay high salaries and, in any case, churches do not normally “employ” clergy. But in the case of a small charity with only one or two employees earning more than £60,000 it might still be possible to identify individuals from the information on the annual return. “Transparency” seems to be flavour of the month: but is it fair for individuals to be singled out in that way?
And the Commission appears to be pressing ahead with its proposal that every trustee should provide it with an e-mail address. According to the Statistical bulletin: Internet users in the UK: 2017 from the Office for National Statistics, 9 per cent of adults in the UK had never used the Internet: so chances are, most of them don’t have e-mail addresses either. What does that say about encouraging diversity among trustees?