Saturday, September 16, 2006

Report on Charity Commission 's Complaints Record 2005-2006

Seeking a Fair Resolution

Independent Complaints Reviewer to the Charity Commission
Annual Report 2005-2006

N.B. If you wish to view this report with all its photographs and images, please select the PDF version (531KB)

You can view the Charity Commission's response to the Report here

The Independent Complaints Reviewer's service

Who is the Independent Complaints Reviewer?

Jodi Berg is the ICR for the Charity Commission, Land Registry, Land Registry Northern Ireland, National Archives and Housing Corporation. She is also Independent Case Examiner for the Child Support Agency and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency. Jodi Berg is a solicitor and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. She is not a civil servant or an employee of the Commission or any other public body.

The ICR service

The Commission opted into the ICR's service in 2001. The ICR reviews complaints made by people dissatisfied with the Commission's response to their concerns. The service is managerially independent from of the Commission and is free to complainants.

Complainants can expect from us:

  • Courtesy and respect
  • Honesty and objectivity
  • Accessibility - a service that is open and available to all
  • Flexibility - procedures that are responsive to the needs of all
  • Use of plain language
  • Openness to suggestions and comments

The ICR is assisted in her work by a small team of staff. Team members are civil servants who are either permanently employed at the ICR office or seconded for a limited time from other public bodies, including those for which Jodi Berg is the ICR. The team members are:

Office Manager: Robin Lockyer

Senior Investigations Officer: David Davies

Investigations Officers: Sheila Lankertis and Kathryn Rogers

Contact the ICR

Independent Complaints Reviewer
New Premier House
150 Southampton Row

t: 020 7278 6251
f: 020 7278 9675



I am pleased to present my annual report as Independent Complaints Reviewer to the Charity Commission.

As in previous years, only a small number of the Commission's customers have had cause to refer a complaint to me during 2005 - 2006. This reflects positively on the Commission, which continues to provide a good service to its customers and to resolve most complaints internally. Nevertheless, the cases that I have reviewed have prompted some recommendations for improvements in the Commission's procedures and revealed some emerging issues concerning the Commission's role as a regulator and its proportionate approach to casework. I will describe these later in my report.

Having carried out an extensive review of the organisation, this year the Commission has begun to implement the findings of its Strategic Review. This has involved finding ways to put into practice the Commission's revised values and mission and has entailed a complete reorganisation of its case-working teams. The coming year will be one of consolidation, as the Commission revises its processes and demonstrates to the sector and the public at large how it has changed. It will, of course, be important for staff to be fully trained in the new procedures so that the service provided to customers does not diminish. I welcome the opportunity to see the new structure in action and the benefits derived from changes in policy and practice.

As I write this year's report, the Charities Bill continues its rather slow passage through Parliament. Once enacted, this legislation will bring many changes for the charitable sector and all Commission customers. In particular, the proposed Charities Tribunal will make a significant difference for people unhappy with Commission decisions. Once established, my office will seek to form links with the Tribunal so that dissatisfied Commission customers do not fall between the gaps.

During the year I have met with the Commission's Chief Executive, Andrew Hind, with the Board of the Commission and its Customer Service team on a number of occasions. I have found all of our meetings helpful and productive. I have also visited each of the Commission's offices and had the opportunity to learn about the Commission from the staff who deliver its day-to-day services. I am heartened by their constructive approach to independent review and I am grateful to all of the members of staff who have helped to enhance my own understanding of today's Commission.

Turning to my office, I am assisted by a dedicated team who adhere to office service principles of impartiality and confidentiality. During the reporting year, we again were awarded the British Standards Institute complaint management standard, one of few public bodies to achieve this accreditation. We have had numerous changes in personnel this year, including the departure of my Office Manager, Andrew Robertson. Andrew was with the ICR office since its inception and was instrumental in bringing our service to the high standards it enjoys today. He is succeeded by Robin Lockyer, who is already making a positive difference to our work. I thank all members of the ICR team for their valued contribution.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the Commission's Chair, Geraldine Peacock, as she departs the Commission. Together with her Board colleagues, she has presented a more open, transparent and approachable face to the sometimes difficult task of regulation. I wish her well and look forward to working with the incoming Chair, Dame Suzi Leather, in the ongoing task of service improvement.

I hope that you find my report interesting and informative.

Jodi Berg

Provision of advice and guidance

A customer complained to the Commission about a school that was a registered charity. He was concerned that the school did not make it clear that its governing document allowed for students to be exempted from religious instruction and worship and that the charity had acted in breach of trust by initially refusing his request for his son to be exempted. The Commission considered this issue and concluded that if the school were to fail to consider an exemption request, it would constitute a breach of trust. It provided advice and guidance to the school's governors, but did not take the regulatory action against the school that the customer desired.

The ICR concluded that the Commission had carried out a full evaluation and taken appropriate action, on the basis of legal advice. The ICR pointed out that the Commission has no power to act as an 'ombudsman', by adjudicating on an internal complaint within a charity. It was further explained to the complainant that it is ultimately for the Commission - not the complainant - to decide whether a governance issue is of sufficient significance for it to take the serious step of regulatory intervention.

About the ICR service

Our mission

Seeking a fair resolution.

Our aim

To be fair and impartial in the review of complaints made by individual members of the public or organisations. To achieve afair and proportionate settlement of complaints, making a positive difference for Commission customers now and in the future.

Our vision

A first rate service provided by professional staff.

What do we review?

The ICR reviews complaints that the Commission has acted maladministratively.

Maladministration is a failure to deal with matters properly or fairly and may involve:

  • Failure to follow proper procedure
  • Discourtesy
  • Discrimination or injustice
  • Excessive delay
  • Not answering complaints fully and promptly
  • Failure to apologise properly for mistakes or provide appropriate redress

The ICR cannot review complaints about Commission's decisions, although she can consider complaints about the way in which they have been made. We expect the Commission to be given a chance to resolve matters before complaints are referred to the ICR. However, because memories fade and information is only kept for a certain time period, complaints should be referred within six months of the Commission's final response to a complaint.

How would you describe the ICR's service? "Excellent".


The Commission's internal complaints procedure

The Commission aims to provide its customers with a high standard of service. If a customer is dissatisfied with the service received, they can complain initially to the person they have been corresponding with at the Commission. If the response received has not resolved the complaint, they can make a formal complaint to a Customer Service Manager who will consider if there have been any failings in service. If a complainant is still unhappy, they can take matters a stage further by complaining to the Commission's Head of Customer Service, who will attempt to bring matters to close and - if appropriate - may offer redress to the complainant.

The Commission is required to signpost our service in its final response to a complaint. It also provides information about us on its website.

The ICR's procedure

If, after exhausting the Commission's internal complaints procedure, the complainant remains dissatisfied, they can contact the ICR, who will determine if the complaint falls within her remit.

People can refer their complaints to the ICR by telephone, post, fax, and e-mail or in person. We ensure that complainants are aware of the limits of our role and how we go about our work from their initial contact with us. We communicate with people in a clear and courteous manner that meets their needs and preferences and, on request, we can provide information and leaflets in a number of languages and formats.

The first thing that we do is consider if it will be possible to negotiate an agreement between the Commission and its customer. In cases where this appears likely, we will liaise with the complainant and the Commission to see whether there is any immediate action that can be taken which will resolve the complaint. For example, this may be by providing helpful information and advice, or by obtaining an agreement from the Commission to take certain steps, such as providing an explanation or an apology if things have gone wrong.

In cases where resolution is not possible or appropriate, we agree a summary of complaint with the customer, which sets the framework for our investigation. Once agreed, a copy of the summary is sent to the Commission, which then sends its case files to us. A detailed chronology is drawn up from the files and from the information provided by the complainant. The ICR then decides whether to issue her report straight away, or whether further enquiries (such as interviews with members of Commission staff) are required prior to issuing her report.

The ICR may make recommendations within her reports. These may be specific and aimed at resolving a complaint for the complainant, such as an apology from the Commission's Chief Executive or a consolatory payment in recognition of the anxiety and distress caused by its maladministration. The ICR can also make 'systemic' recommendations aimed at improving Commission procedures for the future.

In cases where the ICR has made recommendations, the Commission has undertaken to implement them immediately. If, however, the Commission were to decide not to do so, it must provide a written explanation for this. The Commission's Board considers all recommendations made by the ICR and the Customer Service function oversees their implementation in the relevant business area.

Our leaflet, Seeking a Fair Resolution, explains the role of the office and contains a complaint referral form. The leaflet is available from all Commission offices or direct from the ICR's office. It is also available on our website ( which contains further information about our work, copies of annual reports and links to other complaints handling and ombudsman services.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

In cases where the ICR's report has not resolved a complaint to the customer's satisfaction, there is a further avenue of complaint available by asking an MP to refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. In cases where a complainant is dissatisfied with the way in which we have dealt with their complaint, we have an internal complaints procedure under which their concerns are investigated and the ICR will issue a personal response.

Finding out about other complaint handling bodies

You can find out about other complaint handling bodies by visiting the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA) website ( The ICR subscribes to the BIOA principles of independent review and good complaint handling.

Review of the year

The past year has seen the implementation of the findings of the Commission's detailed Strategic Review, during which the Commission sought views from both inside and out to enable it to produce a new vision and mission for the organisation, and a strategy for the next few years. The objective was to, "create a Charity Commission which is a modern regulator, focussing on the needs of charities and the public. [The Commission] will be proactive, strategic and outcome-focussed; working in an open way, valuing partnerships and engaging in dialogue with all our stakeholders". The ICR welcomes this approach, which should serve to strengthen the Commission's position as a modern regulator.

It has clearly been a year of significant change for the Commission and, with old divisions now redundant and new ones emerging, its staff members have faced challenges throughout the year. Nevertheless, it has remained customer-focussed. The coming year should be an exciting one for the Commission, as the findings of the Strategic Review are finally put into practice.

During the year, the Commission resolved 107 complaints at the local stage. Of those that were considered in the formal internal complaints process, 84 were resolved at the first stage of its internal complaints procedure and 28 progressed to the second stage. It also improved its recording of compliments, with 922 received in 2005 - 2006; a significant and welcome increase form the 547 recorded in the previous year. Alongside this action, the Commission continued to administer the Decision Review process.

Recorded complaints have decreased since the previous year and, as the Commission's Customer Service function completed its third year of operation, it appears that the number of complaints is stabilising as expertise has developed within the function and advice on good practice has been shared with wider Commission staff. The ICR has found that members of Commission staff are aware of the complaints process and direct customers to it appropriately.

As always, the majority of complaints received have related to the Commission's perceived lack of responsiveness to allegations against charities. To some extent, this problem has been exacerbated by the Commission's commitment to a proportionate approach to casework, which has not satisfied determined whistleblowers that their particular concerns have been fully investigated. Some have then attempted to use the complaints procedure to persuade the Commission to take further action against a charity or its trustees. On occasion, people have then sought the help of the ICR to achieve this desired outcome.

As a consequence, the majority of complaints referred to the ICR predominantly relate to concerns about charities, rather than to the service given by the Commission. Whilst we compare the Commission's actions in any particular case against its published standards of service to establish whether these have been met, for many customers this is not the issue of concern to them. Proportionality carries little weight as an argument with people who are convinced of the utmost seriousness of the situation.

Despite this, a modern regulator has a duty to ensure that it has a measured and proportionate approach to issues of this kind. As the Commission limits the circumstances in which it will undertake a Section 8 Inquiry, it must also consider its communication strategy in respect of those people who will be disappointed by what they see as a lack of meaningful action, and others who may feel that a charity is being let off the hook. Communication is key to securing understanding and acceptance of the Commission's position. A telephone call, a helpfully worded letter, or a meeting early on may achieve this outcome more effectively than a complaint response at a later date can ever hope to do.

One way that the Commission can help people take their complaints about charities forward in the right way is by encouraging charities themselves to buy in to the concept and importance of well structured internal complaints processes. The Commission's recent report, 'Cause for Complaint', demonstrates that commitment to this area of good practice is far from universal.

In fact, this showed that 70% of charities have no complaints procedure, 79% don't think that they need one and, of particular concern to the ICR, a worrying 77% of small and medium sized charities think that it is the Commission's job to deal with complaints for them. In last year's Annual Report, the ICR repeated the call for consideration to be given to the establishment of a Charities Ombudsman, an office that could make a valuable contribution to the charitable sector generally and to individual charities' appreciation of their responsibilities to the citizens they serve.

During the year the Commission has continued to work with faith groups to identify how the Commission might develop its services to meet their needs more effectively. It has also expanded its Customer Network, which now represents a diverse range of organisations and is well used by the Commission in consultations and trials. By consulting the Customer Network, the wider charitable sector can influence Commission service and raise its awareness about issues within the sector. Consultation with the sector was an important factor in the introduction of Charity Commission Direct, which aims to provide a single, accessible and easy to use point of contact for all enquiries to the Commission.

Finally, the appointment of the Commission's new Head of Customer Service, Jeanna Pearce, brings a further opportunity for development in a customer-focussed organisation. A wide-ranging review of the Customer Service function is planned and the ICR looks forward to playing her part in the improvement of services to Commission customers.

"Thank you for an excellent summary of my complaint and dealing with it so promptly".


"I was pleased that you kept me informed of what was going on".


Failure to take regulatory action

A customer contacted the Commission to complain about the "hard sell' fundraising and financial practices of a religious charity. The Commission opened an Evaluation into the concerns and was satisfied that information obtained from the charity answered any issues the customer had raised. However, the customer did not consider the Commission had done enough to sort things out and, in particular, was unhappy that the Commission would not become involved in 'scriptural matters' at the charity.

Although the ICR found some evidence of delay on the Commission's part, she did not uphold the complaint. She found that the Commission had responded appropriately to the customer's concerns, in accordance with its published practice and procedure. In addition, she was satisfied that the Commission had explained from the beginning of its involvement that it had no role in considering 'scriptural matters'.

During her investigation, the ICR noted that the customer had asked Commission staff about their personal religious beliefs and proceeded to criticise the Commission's handling of his concerns on this basis. The ICR made it clear to the customer that decisions taken by Commission staff are not personal; rather they are professional judgements made on behalf of the Commission as a whole. The ICR recommended that the Commission develop guidance, to assist staff to offer a consistent approach when responding to requests for personal information from customers. As a result, the Commission amended its Employment Handbook and highlighted the change in a Message of the Day to all staff.

Poor communication and lack of judgement

Concerns were brought to the Commission's attention about a company that raised funds through collecting and recycling used clothing. As the funds collected were charitable, the company fell under the Commission's regulatory authority. An Evaluation was opened to consider the company's activities and allegations of 'underhand dealings'.

The director of the company cooperated with the Evaluation and acted on the Commission's advice. On conclusion of the Evaluation, the Commission wrote to the director alleging, amongst other serious charges, theft. It also wrote to all the charities and local authorities the company dealt with to advise them of the outcome of the Evaluation, without giving the director an opportunity to comment. The director referred his complaint to the ICR.

The ICR accepted that the 'round robin' letter was of particular concern to the complainant, who felt that it was damaging to both his own and the company's reputation. She found that the process leading to the despatch of this letter fell below the standard to be expected. She noted that there was no evidence of 'theft' on file, and that no legal advice was taken on the content of the letter before it was sent. She noted that one charity cancelled its contract with the company following receipt of the letter and the company had subsequently decided to draw back from its charitable fundraising activity.

The ICR concluded that although the Commission offered an apology and wrote to the recipients of the letter to clarify matters, this redress did not go far enough. She recommended that the Commission make a consolatory payment to the director and reconsider an earlier request to reimburse the legal costs he had incurred. To improve the service offered to future customers should a similar situation arise, the ICR also recommended that Commission staff be offered guidance on steps to take prior to issuing 'round robin' letters.

Facts and Figures

Cases completed by the Commission 2005-2006 2004-2005

Number of complaints dealt with in Division



Number of formal complaints considered at Stage One



Number of formal complaints considered at Stage Two



Number of compliments received



Cases completed by the ICR 2005-2006 2004-2005

Number of completed reviews



Number of cases considered where review not necessary



Total number of cases closed



ICR speed of service 2005-2006 2004-2005

Target in which to complete review

36 weeks

36 weeks

Average time taken to complete review

27 weeks

21 weeks

Allegations reviewed by the ICR detailed by category 2005-2006 2004-2005










Complaints Handling





















Practice and Procedure






Total number of allegations reviewed



Outcomes of ICR reviews 2005-2006 2004-2005

Number of allegations fully or partially upheld



Number of allegations not upheld



Referrals to the Parliamentary Ombudsman 2005-2006 2004-2005

Number of complainants who have referred complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman following ICR review



Internal complaints considered against the ICR 2005-2006 2004-2005

Number of complaints by Commission customers against the ICR



ICR performance

Our target is to complete all reviews within 36 weeks, once we have agreed a summary of a complaint with a customer. In 2005 - 2006 we completed 18 reviews and the average time taken to complete our reviews was 27 weeks. Although this is well within our target, it is longer than the average of 21 weeks that reviews took last year.

There were a number of cases with a particularly large amount of material to review and inevitably this lengthens the process. A thorough analysis of the issues is of great importance in bringing matters to a conclusion for both the complainant and the Commission. As a result, some reviews may take longer than others. Nevertheless, we recognise that there is room for improvement in this area and are currently reviewing our procedures to identify ways in which to speed up our service.

During the year we also considered 25 cases where a review was not necessary or appropriate. These cases ranged from customers that had come to us with a complaint too early in the process - they had not yet exhausted the Commission's internal complaints procedure - to customers that had come to us too late - they had come to us over six months after they had received the final response to their complaint from the Commission. In addition, there were a number of people who contacted us to complain about charities - as opposed to the Commission - and we signposted them appropriately. Whilst advice and assistance does not form part of our formal review work, we regard it as an important part of our service to assist people to take forward their concerns in the best way possible.

Complaints by category

It is clear from the chart below that the types of allegations considered have remained largely unchanged since last year, with the majority falling into the category of complaints about the Commission's practice and procedure.

However, of cases that were reviewed, only 11.5% were fully or partially upheld. The allegations that were upheld fell into the categories of practice and procedure, cost, advice and communication. The area where most complaints were upheld was delay in the Commission progressing matters.

It is fair to say that most complaints reviewed during the year were made by customers who had contacted the Commission to complain about a charity and were then dissatisfied that the Commission had not taken stringent regulatory action to put matters right. It is important to clarify the limits of the Commission's role early on in its correspondence with complainants, so that expectations are not unduly raised. The Commission's role in providing advice and guidance to charities is changing and we understand that the Commission's leaflet, Complaints about Charities, is currently under review. The ICR would welcome a clear statement for customers, which explains the different action that may be taken and puts the likelihood of a Section 8 Inquiry into context.

The ICR office is currently revising its guidance too, as many complainants contact us in the hope that we will be able to force the Commission to take action against a charity. The ICR does not have this authority and we look to make this clear to complainants when they initially contact us.

Customer comment and internal complaints

When a case is closed, we ask complainants to complete a quality questionnaire on the ICR service. Of those that were returned, it was clear that complainants were satisfied with our published guidance and understood that the ICR is independent of the Commission. Although some respondents were unhappy with the conclusions we had reached, we are pleased that most were satisfied with the service they had received from the office.

If a customer is dissatisfied with the service we have provided - rather than the ICR's findings - we will consider their comments as an internal complaint against the office. During the year, we received 4 complaints from Commission customers, which were mainly concerned with delay. One complainant said:

"...quite frankly we are very disappointed in the length of time that our particular case has taken".

None of the cases where internal complaints were received had exceeded our target of completing a review in 36 weeks. Although staff had kept complainants informed of the progress of the case and apologised for any delays, it was clear that some complainants had believed that their review would be completed much quicker than this. As a result, we have amended our practice to clearly inform complainants at an early stage how long it may take to fully review their case. By being open about the timeframe that we work within, we hope to improve our management of complainants' expectations.

A small number of Commission staff was also asked for their views on the ICR service. All respondents knew about our office, but there were some areas identified where we could improve our communication with staff in the future. For example, whilst most staff recognised that the ICR makes regular visits to the Commission's offices, a number of respondents suggested that attending a talk by the ICR's staff in which her role was explained in more detail would be helpful and enable them to be more confident in advising Commission customers about the ICR service.

We value all feedback from customers and are currently undergoing a comprehensive review of how our service can be improved.

Referrals to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

During the year, 3 complainants requested a review by the Ombudsman following the final report from the ICR. Two of the complaints are still under investigation by the Ombudsman. In the case where the Ombudsman has issued its response, it found no evidence of maladministration on the part of the ICR and did not uphold the complaint.

Cost of the ICR to the Commission 2005-2006 2004-2005

Total contribution to ICR office from Commission, including rent, fees, staff and other costs



Conduct of Inquiry

The Commission conducted a Section 8 Inquiry into four companies, which were raising funds for charities. The Inquiry was instituted to look into concerns that the fundraising methods used did not comply with the requirements of the Charities Act 1992; that the level of charitable expenditure was low in relation to the total funds raised; and that the director of the companies inappropriately received remuneration. The director did not accept that the Commission had any jurisdiction over the affairs of a private company and took the matter to judicial review. However, the Court ruling supported the Commission's actions and findings. The director then raised several complaints with the ICR about the handling of the Commission's Inquiry and the preparation and content of its report on the matter.

The ICR found that on the whole, the Commission had acted appropriately throughout the Inquiry and followed its practices and procedures. Although the Commission was criticised for the delay in publishing its Inquiry report, the ICR recognised that it had apologised for this and did not feel that further redress was necessary. It was noted however that the complainant had been given incorrect advice concerning the procedure to fast track his complaint to the ICR and recommended that the Commission take steps to inform staff about this procedure and the circumstances in which it can be used. The Commission has now implemented this recommendation.

The complainant was dissatisfied with the ICR's response and so took the rare step of asking an MP to refer a complaint about both the Commission and the ICR service to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman's office did not find cause to differ from the ICR's conclusions. In relation to the service received from the ICR, the Ombudsman found, "no evidence that ICR have acted maladministratively".

ICR Recommendations

The ICR can make a number of types of recommendations. For example, she can recommend an apology, an explanation, specific action, a consolatory payment, or make recommendations about the Commission's systems and procedures. Even where a complaint is not upheld, the ICR may find areas for improvement. During the year, the ICR made a number of systemic recommendations for the Commission to enhance its services for future customers:

  • The Commission should actively consider all requests from its customers to meet with the Commission. If a meeting is deemed to be unnecessary, the Commission should give reasons for this decision to the customer.
  • The Commission should consider developing guidance for staff on responding to requests by customers for personal information, for instance, about their religion.
  • A clear audit trail should be kept on the Commission's files to ensure that an appropriate decision making process is evident.
  • To avoid any suggestion of 'back door' influence, the Commission should make publicly available its policy on approaches made directly to Commissioners and senior staff.
  • The Commission should consider whether any new guidance is required to clarify the Commission's role in relation to excepted charities.
  • The Commission should take steps to make staff aware of the procedure for 'fast tracking' complaints to the ICR.
  • The Commission should consider setting time targets for publishing reports following completion of Section 8 inquiries.
  • The Commission should give consideration to providing appropriate staff guidance on the issuing of 'round-robin' style letters, to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to their content and the potential effect on individuals or businesses.
  • The Commission should review current procedures to ensure that there is a clear separation between the consideration of requests to waiver trusteeship disqualification and any complaint investigation associated with the same request.
  • The Commission should not act outside its complaints policy and procedure.

The Commission accepted all of these recommendations and keeps the ICR updated on progress towards their implementation.

About the Charity Commission

The Charity Commission is the independent regulator for charitable activity in England and Wales. It promotes the public's trust and confidence in charities by:

  • Enabling charities to maximise their impact
  • Ensuring compliance with legal obligations
  • Encouraging innovation and effectiveness
  • Championing the work of the sector

The Commission employs approximately 520 staff in London, Taunton, Liverpool and Newport.

Charities range from small groups meeting local needs, to large national and international professional bodies. An essential requirement of charities is that they operate for the public benefit and independently of government or commercial interests. At the end of March 2006, there were 167,202 'main' charities on the Register.

Independent Complaints Reviewer
New Premier House
150 Southampton Row

t: 020 7278 6251
f: 020 7278 9675


Last updated: 21 Aug 2006


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