There are over 11 million people in this country with a criminal record. Many of them play a vital role in contributing to the work of charities. There are many charities, including those working with people in the criminal justice system, that are ‘user led’ or actively involve their beneficiaries at a senior level in their organisation.
Almost anyone is allowed to run a charity, but there are rules that mean some people with a criminal record are prevented from being able to unless they have clearance from the Charity Commission.
Those rules have changed today (1st August 2018). Changes to the ‘automatic disqualification’ rules mean some people with certain convictions will be prevented from being able to run a charity, unless they have clearance from the Charity Commission. The changes cover a wider range of criminal records and apply to certain senior manager roles as well as trustee positions.
Unlock has long opposed these changes – we continue to argue that they are disproportionate and an ineffective way of protecting charities. However, pragmatically we also need to make sure that both charities and individuals respond to the changes.
But worryingly, awareness of the changes is low. Research of small charities carried out by the Foundation for Social Improvement in partnership with Unlock has shown a low level of awareness and understanding of these changes amongst the voluntary sector. Of the 83 respondents to an online survey held in July 2018:
- 70% were not aware of the changes
- On a small of 1-10 on how confident charities were on understanding the impact on people involved in the charity:
- 34% scored 1 (the least confident)
- 65% scored 5 or less
- Only 10% scored 10 (the most confident)
- 4 charities had identified individuals that might be directly affected (i.e. potentially disqualified), yet none of those individuals had applied for a waiver.
It’s important that charities of all shapes and sizes get to grips with these changes, not just those that work in criminal justice. If you particularly involve people with criminal convictions in your organisation’s leadership, it is vital to understand what you can do to support people who are effected to be involved.
We published guidance, with the support of Clinks, in February of this year, to coincide with a new ‘advance’ waiver system that people could use if they were affected by the changes coming in next week. We’ve now updated the guidance, published today, to reflect the changes having fully come into force – to help charities understand these changes and look at what steps to take to maintain and increase the involvement of people with criminal records within charities.
Two main things are now covered in the latest guidance:
- Advice on checking your governing documents – it’s quite common for provisions in articles that prevent people from being disqualified. Depending on how they’re worded, it can mean that a waiver from the Charity Commission has no effect. We’ve sought legal advice and advice from the Charity Commission, and included examples of where this might cause a problem, and provided suggested wording.
- Sample declarations for charities to use for trustees and senior managers covered by the rules
We’ve also got guidance for individuals – to help people understand if they’re affected, we’ve got a simple online tool – and also detailed guidance on applying for a waiver. In practice, people that are disqualified can apply for a waiver which, if granted, will mean they can still take up the role that they were previously disqualified from.
Moving forward, there’s a big question about the impact of these changes. We’ve always been concerned that these changes will make it much more difficult for charities to involve people with criminal records at senior levels in their organisation.
Ultimately, it’s important that neither individuals nor charities think that these changes mean people with criminal records can’t be involved in charities – they can and they should. To help with this, we encourage charities to make a firm commitment to involving people from diverse backgrounds, including people with convictions (particularly given the strong links to over-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic groups in the criminal justice system) and recruiting people on their skills and abilities first.
We are also encouraging charities to take 4 simple steps in dealing with the rules:
- Work out who the new rules cover in your charity and check your governing documents
- Ask those people in roles covered by the new rules if they are disqualified
- Support any individuals disqualified
- Update your policies and practices for recruiting new trustees and certain senior manager positions
We expect the commission to grant waivers to people who are clearly adding value to the charities that they’re involved in, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on any decisions they make to refuse waivers. The number of waiver applications so far is small – only a handle of people with convictions have applied for a waiver since 1st February, and many are still awaiting a decision.
Over the coming months we will be supporting charities that have individuals affected, as well as supporting individuals that are applying for a waiver, and continuing our policy work with the Charity Commission.
Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director