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Saturday 11 July 2015

Tories Charity Crackdown Isn’t

Back in May, the Mail was in the vanguard of those expressing horror at the death of 92-year-old Olive Cooke, who, they claimed, had been hounded to her death by charities sending her beging letters. “SHAME OF CHARITIES THAT DROVE OLIVE TO HER DEATH” thundered their front page headline. There was a suitably judgmental editorial from Daily Mail Comment. Amanda Platell weighed in too.
Sadly, it turned out that Olive Cooke had age-related and depression issues, and it was these, as she explained in a letter found after her death, that led her to end her life. But the Mail is not one to let such a righteous campaign go to waste, and so any and every way in which charities raise money, including cold callers and the on-street irritants known as “Chuggers”, were subject to the Mail’s ire.

Today, that same paper has declaredVICTORY!” and informs readers “EXCLUSIVE: after Mail exposé reveals shame of charity cold call sharks, PM pledges tough new laws”. This sounds impressive. So what is going to happen? “Under tough measures to be introduced in Parliament next week, charities will be forced to have legally binding agreements with their fundraisers committing them to showing how they will protect the vulnerable”.

That’s a “new law”, is it? But do go on. “Charities with a turnover of more than £1million will also be obliged to document how they are monitoring their fundraisers to ensure they are not exploiting potential donors … Crucially, the Charity Commission will have the power to investigate complaints and intervene where the rules are being broken … The Prime Minister will announce a thorough and wide-ranging review of the whole charity fundraising sector, to examine whether tougher laws are needed across the board”.

That last sentence gives the game away: there will be a review of the fundraising sector - to see if new laws are needed. And there’s more of that hedging: “It is thought he will be talking to the Information Commissioner’s Office about the issue of charities contacting people registered with the Telephone Preference Service … Downing Street is understood to be still reserving the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing full-scale statutory regulation if charities do not mend their ways”. Might do it. We think so.

So how effective will this “new law” be? Here’s a clue: “The new rules will be added to the Charities Bill currently in Parliament. Putting them in law means charity trustees must comply. If they do not, the Charity Commission can take action and ultimately shut them down”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here.

One, a bill going through Parliament is not going to be law for some time. And two, the Charity Commission scaled back on its regulatory activities four years ago due, partly, to cutbacks. Unless the Government is going to bung them sufficient funds to enforce whatever new laws it’s trying to get through Parliament, it might as well not bother.

So that’s fitting, in a strange sort of way: Government reacts to outrage over someone who was not hounded to her death by charities, by not really doing anything of any use about it. But it allows the Mail to declare victory, so that’s all right, then.

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