Extension of disqualifications in charities bill ‘unnecessary’

by / Friday, 27 November 2015 / Published in News @ Unlock, Press releases and comment, Trustee

Today, we have published a briefing that we’ve produced in advance of a debate in the House of Commons this coming Thursday, 3rd December, when the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is due its Second Reading.

The concerns raised in this briefing focus on issues relating to criminal records, and represent the views of Unlock. Unlock is an independent award-winning charity that supports ex-offenders (a group which we refer to as “people with criminal records”) and seeks to remove the barriers that result from criminal records. Unlock is a peer-led charity – this means that we recruit staff, volunteers and trustees that have criminal records. At a board level, we aim to have at least 50% of our trustees who have personal experience of living with a criminal record.

These concerns have the support of a number of charities; the Prison Reform Trust, Clinks, User Voice, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Transform Justice, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, and the Criminal Justice Alliance.

The concerns that we’re raising in this briefing were featured in an article by Third Sector last Wednesday.

Download the briefing here

There are proposals within the Bill that represent a direct threat to Unlock and to other charities that work to rehabilitate people with criminal records, many of whom employ former offenders either as trustees or in senior management positions. At the heart of the voluntary sector is the principle of working with our service users, rather than doing things to them. This is no less important with people in the criminal justice system than with any other group. Any unnecessary barriers to the recruitment of people with convictions as trustees and in senior positions is a threat to the core mission of our sector.

As the Secretary of State for Justice himself has stated, we should not judge individuals by the worst moments in their lives. Instead of seeking to narrow opportunities for ex-offenders to reintegrate and contribute to society, we should be supporting efforts to contribute to civil society through paid employment in the voluntary sector or as volunteers.

The provisions of the Bill, which extends the disqualification framework to a broader range of offences and roles within charities, will undermine the ability of people with criminal records to participate actively in society through legitimate voluntary and paid work. The automatic barring of people on the sex offenders register from becoming charity trustees is a crude and ineffective means of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

Although the Government acknowledges the potential for waivers to be issued in cases where an individual seeks to be a trustee of an “ex-offender” charity, our own direct experience and the support we’ve provided to other organisations shows the waiver process is woefully inadequate and not workable in a way that allows charities like Unlock to fulfil their charitable purposes. This briefing seeks to address these concerns as well as others that we have about the Bill.

In a comment I provided to Third Sector for their article last week, I said:

“The Bill represents a direct threat to Unlock and a number of other charities that work to rehabilitate people with criminal records, many of whom employ former offenders either as trustees or in senior management positions. The provisions of the Bill, which extend the disqualification framework to a broader range of offences and roles within charities, will undermine the ability of people with criminal records to participate actively in society through legitimate voluntary and paid work for charities.

Although the Government acknowledges the potential for waivers to be issued in cases where an individual seeks to be a trustee of an “ex-offender” charity, our own direct experience (and the support we’ve provided to other organisations) shows the waiver process is woefully inadequate and not workable in a way that allows charities like Unlock to fulfil their charitable purposes.

The automatic barring of people on the sex offenders register from becoming charity trustees and senior managers, a provision which was opposed by the former coalition government, is a crude and ineffective means of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. It also defies rehabilitation legislation, as it would have the impact of taking into account convictions long after they become ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

We’ve put forward alternative proposals that would help achieve the important aim of safeguarding charities from abuse without the unintended consequences of the current provisions. Automatically barring people with criminal records from volunteering or working for charities is no way to help them lead a law-abiding life.”

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-Director of Unlock

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