Charities have until 1 September to respond to the Charity Commission’s newly launched consultation on changes to the Annual Return.
The Charity Commission’s formal consultation on proposed changes to the Annual Return is designed to ensure the regulator is collecting the right information in the years ahead.
The return has not changed significantly since 2018, but following a review, the Commission is proposing to update the question set that charities will need to complete from 2023 onwards.
The proposed changes are a key step in the Commission’s ambitions to become a more data-driven regulator. It wants the data it gathers on charities to serve three purposes: to help it better identify risks and problems in the sector, to help the public make informed and confident choices about charities, and to allow policy-makers, researchers, the sector, and the public to gain a better understanding of the sector in England and Wales.
The proposed changes mean that charities will answer more questions, but in many cases the questions will be simpler and clearer. Overall, the Commission wants to ensure that completing the return doesn’t take up a disproportionate amount of time.
The questionnaire will also include an interactive glossary to help charities in completing the form. This remains under development and will be informed by responses to the consultation.
Among the planned additions are questions designed to:
- Better capture and understand charities’ reliance on certain types of income, and on single sources of funding. For example, charities will be asked whether 70% or more of their funding relies on one income stream, and whether 25% or more of their income comes from certain types of income sources, such as corporate donors.
- Gain more information on roles and responsibilities, governance, controls and different organisational structures in charities, as this information can sometimes correlate with risk.
- Help create a more accurate picture of the geographical areas in which charities operate in England and Wales by asking for information about the premises charities operate from. This data will help policy makers and grant-givers identify geographic areas under-served by charitable work and support funding decisions.
- Better capture staffing numbers and payroll costs in the sector to make it easier for the public and others to understand charities’ use of resources and their capability to deliver certain types of activity.
Alongside the formal consultation, the Commission has been undertaking user-testing of the question set with charities, to ensure they are clear and easy to understand. A further round of this user-testing is planned for July. This will involve asking 4,000 randomly chosen charities to provide feedback on the language of the new question set.
Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, said:
“The annual return is a crucial tool that helps charities account for their work to us as regulator, and to the public and funders. It’s important we get the questions right, but also that we keep the burden on charities completing the return proportionate. So I encourage charities to look at the proposed changes and have their say as part of our consultation.
“Looking ahead, the new information we hope to gather through the annual return will benefit the sector, as well as the Commission as regulator, by allowing us to make more detailed, richer information about the sector available, which in turn can inform the public and funders in making better informed decisions about which charities to support.”
New, flexible approach to questions
As part of the proposed changes, the Commission is also developing a more flexible approach to the use of proposed Annual Return questions, allowing it to adjust each one during the period in question, depending on the circumstances.
The proposal is for the majority of questions set out in the consultation to appear each year.
The Commission will publish in advance details of the questions selected for inclusion in the Annual Return and the rationale for including them.
How to take part
Charities can respond to questions via an online survey, and provide additional information or responses via a dedicated mailbox. The consultation will run for 12 weeks, ending 1 September 2022.