Policy, Policy, campaigns & research

Fair, balanced and independent: the Charity Commission’s new strategy

The Charity Commission has launched its new strategy. Here are some initial observations from Jay Kennedy, DSC's Director of Policy and Research.

I recently attended the launch event for the regulator’s new strategy, which is intended to guide its work up to 2029. It’s very top-level, and lots of the details of how it will be implemented in practice remain to be worked out, but on its face there’s a lot to like. The language and tone offers a very refreshing change, and should provide a good framework to help charities and their regulator navigate some tricky challenges ahead. Here are some initial observations. 

A changed narrative reflecting a different approach 

It feels like we’ve collectively moved from a confrontational to a constructive relationship over recent months, and the new strategy formalises that. This version of the regulator isn’t the distant policeman, finger-wagging scolder-in-chief, or best friend. I would argue it actually marks a return to its core purpose, whilst acknowledging that effective regulation of such a vast and diverse sector, which depends on volunteer trustees, can’t function without ‘the consent of the governed’. 

As the Chair Orlando Fraser repeatedly stressed, the Commission’s actions and statements will be focused first and foremost in the law, and grounded in its independence from government according to the remit and statutes set out by Parliament. That’s exactly as it should be: DSC has repeatedly argued that deviation from that core purpose over recent years has been a big problem with negative consequences. 

This approach is already being battle-tested. For example, in ongoing debates about ‘culture wars’ and the many social and cultural tensions which a quite nasty-looking General Election campaign is already dragging up. But the shift in mood music at the Commission is real and I think charities need to grab the opportunity to help make this strategy work. 

Top level values underpinned by five priorities 

There are three top-level principles or ‘values’ in the new strategy, underpinned by five priority areas. The values are: 

  • Fair – this involves consistency, acting free of bias, having and demonstrating clear processes. 
  • Balanced – this involves holding those who abuse charitable status to account but also supporting trustees and helping correct mistakes. 
  • Independent – this involves being impartial, being beholden to no-one in applying the law, and acting independently from ‘any other entity’. 

The priorities are: 

  1. We will be fair and proportionate in our work and clear about our role. 
  2. We will support charities to get it right but take robust action where we see wrongdoing and harm. 
  3. We will speak with authority and credibility, free from the influence of others. 
  4. We will embrace technological innovation and strengthen how we use our data. 
  5. We will be the expert Commission, where our people are empowered and enabled to deliver excellence in regulation. 

For each of these priorities, the strategy includes points about ‘how we will achieve this’ and a brief description of outcomes. I think all of the values and priorities offer useful language that we can use to help hold the Commission to its word in more specific circumstances. 

Big questions remain about resources and processes  

So far, so good. But what’s next?I’d point to two pressing issues, with the second one contingent to a degree on the first. 


The strategy includes lots of good points about investing in staff expertise, using innovative approaches, doing more with data and new technology. For example, further development of the register of charities and associated data was a theme of conversation at the launch. This will surely be important in the future: from improving charity transparency, to better risk management, to increasing understanding of where charities are and what they do collectively.  

But will the Treasury and the next government be sold on increasing let alone maintaining or not further cutting the Commission’s budget? In our pre-election conversations with the political parties we need to reawaken this question, and show the potential benefits and impacts. 


The Chair helpfully acknowledged the weight of regulation on charity trustees and he is aware of the pressures on trustee recruitment and retention, and the need for more diversity. To bring the strategy’s values to life, especially around the value of ‘fair’, the nuts and bolts of the Commission’s day-to-day functioning need further evaluation for their efficiency and effectiveness, and we need much clearer published metrics about expected standards and performance.  

For example, how long does it take the regulator to respond to a letter from a board of trustees, or to grant certain types of permissions? How responsive is the call centre or other customer contact, not just at answering the phone but in resolving queries and triaging more complex ones effectively?  

Does the waiver system for current or prospective trustees with a criminal record even work? How (dys)functional is the communication between the regulator and charities which have found themselves subject to enforcement actions? Do the cases the Commission chooses to prioritise genuinely reflect relative risk, or are they reflecting external pressures that impinge on the Commission’s independence and judgments? How can we tell? 

These will be key questions for the new Chief Executive David Holdsworth to consider, and thankfully he’s very well-qualified to do so. 


These resource and process issues could knock the shine off of ‘Fair, Balanced and Independent’ if they don’t match charity trustees’ experiences when dealing with the regulator. The Commission needs to make sure the principles align with reality.  

The new strategy concludes by acknowledging that more work needs to be done in terms of measuring success. It says that ‘early in 2024 we will begin work to identify a set of strategic impact measures…aligned to the five strategic priorities’. This will then feature in the Commission’s future Annual Reports.  

There’s a good basis for making progress, but more work to do. There will be disagreements and conflicts along the way and the strength of relationships and dialogue will be key to overcoming those. Charities and trustees must keep engaging constructively – keep an eye out here for further updates and opportunities to input your views.