Simple Accounts Spreadsheet
Comments from a User

I came into our small community managed library when the treasurer of the time decided to step down.   It was an amicable departure and he took me through the series of Excel separate spreadsheet that he had put together for the task.   They did the job well for a small operation like ours.

There was a high level of granular detail being analysed for what was a small operation.   Reporting concentrated on quarters that were brought together at the end of year.   End of year data was assembled and transferred over to a separate format for sign off and reporting.   I struggled to follow the detail information flows between these individual spreadsheets particularly round a series of grants with different conditions and found that it was easy for me to be inconsistent as data was updated in one place and then manually transferred.   I did not feel I wanted to provide hard linkage between them that would, while reducing one source of discrepancy, created a system that would resist change as well as generating its own opportunity for mistakes and inconsistencies.

I ran this system for a year to get to grips with it and understood both how it worked and where data from it was used.   I produced a flow chart of the information and data transfers to aid my understanding.

Towards the end of the first year, I started looking at charity finance systems to be ready for the next year.   There were many around usually based on membership systems.   Some linked membership to marketing.   Most were outside our budget.   I realised that their cost might be justified for large charities but were unrealistic for us.

From my professional engineering life, I was also wary of systems that were tailored to your own environment that would limit freedom of activity especially when we were a service organisation where membership was not a key feature.   I was also aware that Charity Commission documentation, while very detail and comprehensive, totally appropriate for a national body, was less than helpful to us looking daunting and unappealing to someone considering becoming a team member with us.

This was the point that I found and made contact with Small Charity Support.   They appeared to be an organisation that was trying to influence the wider charity world to understand that processes for large organisations were unhelpful at our size.   I was a spreadsheet person and did not feel confident to put together a schema for a database.   I was also not an accountant by profession and felt I wanted to resist the more formal methods necessary in Company reporting.   Whatever I did would need handing on at some stage

The Small Charity Support multi-tab spreadsheet appealed to me.   It was intuitively simple while carrying data around its tabs so that it only had to be entered once.   Errors could therefore be reduced.   It took a short while to understand the places where data could be entered and modified and where formulae lurked behind to make this unwise.   Yet it had the flexibility to name and assemble category lines to represent our own operation.   I also found that I could insert more of my own sheets to summarise and control information in one place and so reduced the separate spreadsheets outside this workbook.

The thing that appealed to me most was that I could request colleagues to submit expenses, enter them and then use the budget reporting to generate immediate reports to our Trustees and Committee colleagues every month with no additional effort beyond printing a PDF and mailing it out where previously this had been quarterly.   Reporting increased threefold to help decision making.

I am aware that more lies behind this workbook than I use but that fits our principle of promoting our dedication to service against time spent in administration.   I took a decision early on the simplify the analyses done and stick to simple Receipt and Payments process that is sufficient for our Library operation.

So far, I have no regrets and our whole Committee now tries to put our service users before granular analysis.

JC    24 Feb 21

Charity Financial Reporting Standards
Not Fit for Purpose ?!

 This "Thought" is about how charities are currently required to report (and, by implication, manage) their finances and makes the case that current guidelines are not fit-for-purpose, particularly for the vast majority (>85%) of small charities with annual incomes less than £250,000.   A practical alternative, already in use by a number of small charities, is described.

It is a summary of a much longer (35 pages) article which provides more detailed evidence of "Not Fit for Purpose" (which can be downloaded by clicking HERE).

 

The preparation of a charity’s financial accounts, and (for charities with incomes over the relevant threshold) having those accounts verified by audit or independent examination, is seen as one of the fundamental corner-stones of assurance to donors and the public at large that monies donated to charities are being used Efficiently, Effectively and Economically for the charitable purposes for which they were given.

In 2016 a survey by Populus commissioned by the Charity Commission had found that, at 57%, public trust in small charities was considerably higher than the 34% public trust in large charities.

In 2018, Populus was again commissioned by the Commission to undertake an independent survey of public opinions of the charity sector.   The survey found that being “transparent about where money goes” was the most important factor in promoting public trust in charities.

But the latest (August 2019) review by the Charity Commission of charity annual reports & accounts found that:

  • less than half (44%) of the annual accounts of small charities (incomes in the range £25,000-£250,000) complied with its benchmark standards;
  • Larger charities were more, but still not fully, compliant with the standards;
    Charities with incomes in the range £250,000-£1,000,000 were only 51% compliant;
    Charities with incomes over £1,000,000 were still only 75% compliant

In other words:  the Charity Commission’s own reviews show that the more compliant charities accounts are with complicated (obfuscational) accountancy standards the less likely they are to be regarded as “transparent and trustworthy” by the public.

A still more recent (March 2021) survey of trustees’ views of the SORP accounting standards by the Chartered Governance Institute reported the following comments from trustees (many of whom were reported as having qualified accountancy expertise):

  • “I just think the amount of financial information that has to be provided is too extensive.
    Note that the entire SORP runs to 203 pages and the index alone runs to 7 pages.”
  • “It is too long and complicated for a non-financial trustee.”
  • “The current presentation of financial figures is more difficult for nonfinancial practitioners who have to work quite hard to get an overall picture.”

In other words:
It is self-evident from these diverse reviews that the current reporting standards for charities are not fit for purpose – particularly for the majority of “small” charities.

 

Albert Einstein
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

The problem of current charity accounting/reporting standards being “not fit for purpose” for small charities is not a new one, “suddenly popped up from nowhere”.   It has been around for at least a decade, probably for much longer.

So why is it still such a growing problem?
Because Einstein’s advice is being ignored !
Thinking that the problems can be resolved by either “adjusting some of the detail” of the current FRS-102/SORP and R&P accounting/reporting procedures or, worse, by promoting them even more enthusiastically is only perpetuating the problem, not solving them.

Accruals reporting or R&P reporting are the current “Hobson’s Choice” – “take it or leave it” – of charity financial management for small charities.

ShireHorseAccruals reporting standards are the “shire horse” of financial reporting in the commercial sector.   Although undoubtedly huge and magnificent to the eyes of accountancy aficionados, as the March 2021 review reports, they are hopelessly “over-the-top”, cumbersome and inappropriate for ordinary every‑day use by the majority of small charities, particularly those which do not have the resources to employ accountancy professionals.

(a)    they are unnecessarily dependent on complicated, stylised/jargonised and obsolete double-entry bookkeeping methodology, requiring a significant amount of professional financial training which is beyond the reasonable capabilities of the non-accountant, unpaid volunteers & trustees of small charities;

(b)    they unnecessarily require assets be assigned hypothetical valuations (“funny money”) which have to be included in a charity’s accounts as if they were “real money”.   That, in turn, requires that any fluctuations in the “funny money” valuations of assets have to be included in a charity’s accounts as if they were “real money” income and expenditure.

(c)    as a consequence, accruals reporting is seen as confusing, misleading and irrelevant – ie: untrustworthy – by many who are not trained in financial “bean counting”, particularly the typical non-accountant trustees and other volunteers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders of small charities.

EeyoreLIn contrast:  Receipts & Payments (Cash) reporting standards are the “Eeyore” of financial reporting.   Although ostensibly “simple and likeable”, in practice they are rather inept and error-prone.   The are the “simple alternative” for those who can’t cope with “proper” accruals reporting.

(a)    the separation of the transfers of funds from the activities to which they relate can (and often does!) create significant distortions in the charity’s financial reports;

(b)    the notion that keeping R&P-focused financial records is “simpler” than keeping accruals-focused financial records is wrong and misleading.

Both Accruals(FRS-102/SORP) and Receipts & Payments (Cash) reporting standards are primarily not fit for purpose, particularly for small charities, because neither were designed to meet the needs of most of those who will create, use and read them.

Which is why all too often when it comes to standards for financial reporting the non-accountant trustees of small charities tend to take a “blow that for a bowl of cherries” approach, disregard the formal accounting standards and instead produce something that they, and their supporters can actually understand.
Which is why significantly more than half of small charity accounts fail to meet the Charity Commission’s financial reporting standards, while significantly more than half of the public find small charities more trustworthy than large charities whose financial reports are better at complying with the reporting standards.

BeneficiariesWhat is needed is to abandon both the FRS-102/SORP (accruals) and the R&P (Cash) reporting standards – certainly for all charities with annual incomes less than £1M –  and replace them with a single standard which:

1:     is designed “from the bottom up” – based on the way that the “ordinary” non-accountant trustees and other volunteers and staff of the majority of small charities work naturally and intuitively to optimise their use of resources to meet the needs of their beneficiaries.

RichPersonie: charity reporting systems should NOT be just an adaptation of reporting systems designed for the commercial sector with quite different objectives, namely the optimisation of their resources for the financial benefit of their investors;

2:     is designed to take full direct advantage of the features of modern relational database technology (ie: abandons obsolete double-entry bookkeeping concepts);

3:     records both the date of the activity to which the transaction relates (ie: as in Accruals reporting) and the date on which the “money changes hands” (ie: as in R&P reporting).   That will allow one simple set of data to produce both activity based reports (eg: for the end of year financial report to the Charity Commission and the public record) and cash-flow reports (ie: for the day-to-day financial management of the charity, and for reporting to donors);

4:     does not separate financial records and reports into isolated siloes (eg: financial reporting, management reporting, budget reporting, creditors & debtors reporting, cash-flow reporting) but is simultaneously producing all such reports and updating them in “in real time” as transactions are entered or updated;

MagicianHoldingHatNo5:     does not create unnecessary and irrelevant confusion by creating hypothetical (“funny money”) values of a charity’s assets (operational, investments and heritage) and then integrating those “funny money” numbers along with the charity’s “real money” cash assets (including changes in those “funny money” values as if they there income or expenditure, even though no “real money” ever changes hands).

It is acknowledged that criticising the current standards is “the easy bit”.

But the above proposals are not as hypothetical as the accountancy “funny money” of which they are so critical.

On the contrary:   ALL the above features are demonstrated as being feasible, practical and robust by the open-source “Simple Accounts” spreadsheet created by Small Charity Support.

 

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.
The Small Charity Support “Simple Accounts” spreadsheet has been in existence since 2014 and is used successfully by a number of small charities some of which produce Receipts & Payments financial reports and others which produce Accruals financial reports.

  • Financial transaction data entry is simple and intuitive requiring no special “bookkeeping” skills;
  • Routine financial management reports (Budget, Cash Flow, Debtors/Creditors) can be produced “in real time” (ie: by a “click of a button” as transactions data are entered);
  • End-of-Year Annual Accounts and Financial Statements – compliant with current guidelines for small charities – can similarly be produced “in real time” at the click of a button for inclusion directly into the Trustees’ Annual Report.

 

Editorial note:
This article is not a commercial promotion of the Small Charity Support financial recording & reporting spreadsheet.
Instead the spreadsheet was developed as a practical and working demonstration of the application of the “Simple is Beautiful” concept to the financial management and reporting of small charities.
The spreadsheet is, always has been (since 2014), and always will be, open-source software, free to download from the Small Charity Support website and use by charities and other not-for-profit organisations for non-commercial purposes.

OnLineMeetings 

An interim service to support the introduction of on-line meetings and social gatherings for small charities.

.Lawyer
Please read our

Legal Notice page.

In order to support other small charities during the Coronavirus crisis we are offering an interim start-up hosting and implementation service using "Zoom" (one of the leading applications) to small charities (annual income less than ca.£100K) which want to make a start in providing on-line “gatherings” for both:

  • administrative purposes (eg: so that they can have on-line Trustees, or staff/volunteer meetings during a period of lockdown) and, particularly,
  • on-line social events (eg: talks, quizzes, community sessions) for their beneficiaries.

The service will include:

  • providing scheduled on-line gatherings of up to 3 hrs duration (including a 15 min joining & registration period prior to the scheduled start and a 15 min “over-run” buffer after the scheduled end);
  • hand-holding practice sessions prior to a scheduled gathering to help beneficiaries who are “a bit wobbly” with on-line computer services through the initial installation and setting up process. Where appropriate this would include 1-1 support (eg: by telephone) so that beneficiaries can be talked through the setting up process.
    The aim would be to get beneficiaries to the point where they can comfortably join on-line sessions by themselves unaided to avoid disrupting scheduled gatherings.
  • support to the charity’s volunteers and staff to help them to develop new and more effective ways of running and providing on-line services to their beneficiaries. The idea is that this would lead to the development of innovative ways for the charity to engage effectively and efficiently with its beneficiaries which would continue long after the current crisis is over.

You might also find the following guidance leaflets helpful

To use this service please send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. giving the name of your charity and when you are planning an on-line meeting/gathering and we will do our best to accommodate you.

Frustrated CharlieBrownWarning !

Unfortunately there are reports that some people are using Zoom software not to help those in need during the Covid-19 crisis but to exploit others' needs for their own benefit.

If you are intending to use Zoom for your own gatherings:

  • avoid publicising your gathering on social media to which everyone (incuding potential intruders) has access;
  • make sure that your gathering is password protected and that you only give the password to those you want to participate;
  • use the Zoom "virtual waiting room" facility so that you can check the identity of people joining before allowing them to enter the gathering.



The Costs

Small Charity Support is run by volunteers with minimal overheads.
It provides all its services free of charge to other small charities to help them deliver free or low-cost services to meet the needs of their beneficiaries.

If providing the service will incur out-of-pocket expenses that will be negotiated and agreed before any such expenses are incurred.

Donations to Small Charity Support are always welcome, but are not obligatory.
Small Charity Support’s Trustees’ Annual Reports & Accounts are available elsewhere on its website and can be downloaded from the Charity Commission’s public Register of Charities.

 

Responding to a New Need

Charities, by their very nature, tend to be very direct person-to-person orientated, responding to the needs of individuals by the provision of both 1-1 and small group activities.

The arrival of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has thrown the world into chaos.   Not just at the “big business and finance” level, but even more so at the small charity level.   The personal contact between small charities and their individual beneficiaries – the very essence of their “business” – has been seriously disrupted by the enforcement of social separation and isolation in the efforts to limit the effects of the pandemic.

On-line gatherings – ie: covering the whole gamut of internet communications, from large-scale conferences and events, to small Board meetings – has been around for many years.   Consequently the technology is widely available, and of very high quality.

But it has largely been irrelevant to the charity sector, particularly the small end of the sector, with its focus on the social importance of direct personal contacts, even where on-line technology could otherwise have been used.
{Even in the largest, wealthiest parts of the commercial/financial sector, senior executives STILL feel it is worthwhile to spend large amounts of money on first- and business-class airfares and hotels to maintain direct face-to-face contact with clients when an on-line meeting would have been possible.}

One thing is certain.
Life is NOT going to return to “normal” once the Covid-19 crisis has passed – ie: most charities will NOT go back to just doing things the same way as they did before the crisis.

Some of the changes forced onto the charity sector by the crisis are going to be found to be unexpectedly beneficial and charities will be wanting to not only continue using them once the crisis is past but will be actively expanding, developing and innovating on those changes.

The use of on-line communications to deliver social benefits as well as “business” benefits is likely to be one such area of change.

Small Charity Support is expanding it’s mission to include supporting small charities to introduce on‑line communications technology not just to help them overcome short-term difficulties but how to make use of (ie: develop and innovate the use of) such technologies to enable them to continue to deliver “social gathering” benefits to their beneficiaries (eg: the Sofa Singers and other community groups).

Disclaimer

 

While it is Small Charity Support’s intention to provide you with the best possible support and information as we are able, it is important that you read and give due consideration to the following notices.

 

lawyerThe information contained in this website and downloadable leaflets is provided in summary form and is made available for general information purposes only.   It has not been prepared with your specific needs in mind and is not advice of any kind (whether legal, financial, or otherwise).

Please take the time to check the information in this website and downloadable leaflets is suited to your specific circumstances and if you are making any important decisions, such as on financial, legal or tax matters, you should consult a qualified professional adviser who can provide specific advice based on your position.

Small Charity Support does not assume any liability or responsibility to any person or entity for the information contained in this website and downloadable leaflets and you should not rely on any information contained in this website and downloadable leaflets.   Small Charity Support makes no representation as to, and does not assume any responsibility for, the accuracy, completeness or relevance of the information contained in this website and downloadable leaflets.

Please make sure that any sites you link to from this website and downloadable leaflets are appropriate to you, as we do not endorse such websites and have no control over their contents or how (or if) that site operates.   Any links or references in this website and downloadable leaflets to a company, entity, service or product does not, in any way, imply an endorsement.

 

 

 

Copyright 

© 2014-2020  Small Charity Support

CC Copyright

The materials in this website and downloadable leaflets are made available
to charities and not-for-profit organisations under a
Creative Commons  Attributable – Non Commercial – Share Alike  License

That license lets you remix, adapt, and build upon this material non-commercially, as long as you credit Small Charity Support and license your new creations under the identical terms.

Should Private Schools be Charities?

The Editorial in the Small Charities Coalition Newsletter of 16 October 2019 observed:

The suggestion has been made {at the recent Labour Party Conference}
that Private Schools are more like businesses and that their assets should be redistributed.

and followed it with a short on-line questionnaire asking:

What do you think?
Keep Private Schools Charitable
Remove the Charitable Status of Private Schools
Not Sure

Although obviously related, the issues of absorbing current “private schools” into the state system in order that their assets can be re-distributed (presumably throughout the state system) is NOT the same as the issue of removing their charitable status – not least because by no means ALL private schools are registered charities: they are already just “ordinary” commercial businesses.

The Editorial also asks “.... have you developed a partnership with a Private school? “.
And I have to answer “Yes”, and declare a “Conflict of Interest”.

One of our grandsons is currently a pupil at a large and well-respected Nth.London charitable private school, as formerly were our two sons (one of whom is our grandson’s father) previously.   In fact, our family has a long history of association with the school because our grandson’s maternal great uncle and great-grandfather were also pupils at the school – a 4-generation family association going back almost 100 years.   And I also have to say that, because of our personal interests and involvement in charity work, we have been very satisfied with the way that our grandson’s school has endeavoured to fulfil its charitable obligations, both through the provision of scholarships and bursaries to pupils whose families could not afford the fees (including ours) and in making its excellent grounds and facilities accessible to local community activities.

The question also implies (albeit probably unintentionally) that the issue of whether charitable status is warranted, or not, applies only (or, at least, primarily) to public schools – perhaps because of the recent self-interested and distinctly “uncharitable” attitudes of some high-profile public figures who were the “beneficiaries” of a private school education.   But the reality is that the blurring of the distinction between big “charitable” interests and big business interests is a much wider than just private schools, particularly in areas like health, social services and leisure.

The core of the issue is that the definition of “charity”, as applied in the Charities Act differs markedly from the general understanding of that word by the proverbial “person on a Clapham omnibus” – as was eloquently pointed out by none other than Lord Hailsham, who said:

“ … the words ‘charity’ and ‘charitable’ bear, for the purposes of English law and equity, meanings totally different from the senses in which they are used in ordinary educated speech or, for instance, in the Authorised Version of the Bible.”

The HM Revenue & Customs internal guidance manual on charitable status explicitly states:

You should not confuse the way in which a charity fulfils its objects with the charitable nature of the objects.   There is nothing to stop a charity charging a large amount of money for its charitable services.
....see the companion Charity Thought – “What is a Charity?

The issue is exemplified by Nuffield Health, a £900+M mega-charity which, ostensibly, is not a commercial business and so doesn’t make a “profit” to distribute to its “investors or shareholders”, as its 2017 Trustees’ Annual Report is keen to emphasise:

We are a trading charity:
....As a charity, we do not have investors or shareholders to answer to: our customers and patients come first.
We generate income by charging for the services we offer.

Nevertheless, in 2017 it was able to generate enough “surplus” (rather than “profit”) on its income from “charging for the {“charitable”} services it offers” to pay over £14M in “interest” (rather than “dividends”) to its “lenders and bondholders” (rather than to its “investors and shareholders”).   Nor is Nuffield Health a unique example – see the Charity Thought: “Charity Bonds Raise £33M

In short, private schools are not the only group of charities for which charitable status can be seen as a bit of a sham.   Nor are they invariably the worst offenders.
So any review of the charitable status of private schools MUST be within the wider context of what does and does not constitute charitable status across the charity sector as a whole, NOT as a political gimmick to take “pot shots” at contentious political opponents.

One consideration which warrants particular consideration, not least because of its wide-ranging implication for the whole of the charity sector, are the likely consequences of singling out private schools for the removal of their charitable status.   As with all such actions, the “Law of Unintended Consequences” must not be overlooked.

Some private schools, particularly the wealthier ones might simply decide to de-register as charities and become “commercial” schools as a way of avoiding being, effectively, taken over by the state.   They would inevitably have to put up their fees to cover the additional costs of not having charitable status (eg: becoming liable for full, rather than 80+% discount, on business rates).   But for many of their more wealthy clients, such increases in fees would be little more than inconsequential “small change”.   AND the schools would no longer be obliged to offer token bursaries and other such “charitable gestures” to protect a charitable status that they no longer had.

But many smaller private schools might well find that their clients could no longer afford the fees and so their children would have to transfer to the state sector.   That would impose an additional burden, and cost, on the already overstretched and struggling state sector.   After all, it is hardly realistic to expect parents, who are currently saving the state sector money by paying from their own pocket to have their children educated, to pay the state to educate their children instead when other children in the same school are getting their education free.   And that is particularly so when those parents are also contributing to the costs of the state education sector by paying their UK taxes like everyone else.

In short – singling out private schools for the removal of charitable status might have exactly the opposite effect to that intended – increasing, rather than removing, the social divide between those who can afford private education and those who can’t; increasing, rather than reducing, the costs of state education; whilst, at the same time, putting the most substantial private school resources even further beyond the reach of those less wealthy.

So how about a different approach?
Children of parents paying UK taxes (ie: who are entitle to free education in the UK) who are receiving private education are left where they are with the parents continuing to pay the school fees.   But the money that it would have cost the state to take that child back into the state sector is, instead, given to their current school to be used to fund bursaries for other children whose parents couldn’t afford the school fees.   There would, of course, have to be some state oversight of the now hybrid private/state-funded sector.   But since the most common reason for paying for their children to be educated privately is because of the perceived higher standard of private education compared to the state sector, the educational standards should not be a problem.

And in addition to the purely educational benefits, there is also the consequential benefits of the enhanced opportunities for social mobility in private schools providing education for children from more diverse financial/social backgrounds.

There is, of course, still the Law of Unintended Consequences intervening to make the system unworkable – eg: parents complaining that “poor” children (ie: from less wealthy families) are lowering the educational standard of the no-longer entirely private school and either taking their children away or refusing to continue paying and demanding that the state foot the bill as for other children, effectively causing the system to implode financially.

Or how about a different approach at the other end of the spectrum:  as befits the capitalist eutopia of a “low tax high income” economy, why not take education out of the state sector entirely ?   That would enable taxes to be lowered (no schools to be state funded) enabling take-home pay to rise so that parents could pay to have their children educated wherever they wished (and could afford!).   And the UK, being a “generous” nation, would inevitably step in to set up “real charity” schools where the children of low income families could be educated at low or zero fees.

Sounds a bit outrageously radical ?
Of course it is ! – the golden rule of “brainstorming” is NEVER to think that an idea is so unthinkable that it is unthinkable.   Because sometimes constructively thinking the unthinkable makes one realise that it (or something along similar lines) might not be quite so outrageous as it seemed at first

As the grandparents (and, previously, parents) of children who had the benefit of private education we are all too aware of the inherent inequities of the system.   But the emphasis has to be on educational equity for all, NOT educational equality.   In education, as in most other areas, there is no “one size meets all”.   There is as much inequity in an educational system which denies children the environment which is best for their abilities and circumstances to ensure that their achieve their potential simply because their parents can afford it as there is in an educational system which denies children the environment which is best for their abilities and circumstances to ensure that their achieve their potential simply because their parents can’t afford.

The inequalities and inequities of a private education system flourish in environments where there are inequalities and inequities in the distribution of wealth.   Attempting to dismantle an education system because it favours the wealthy is never going to succeed.   Inequality of wealth creates inequalities of power and influence.   And those with great wealth and power are always going to find ways of educating their children to aspire to, and achieve, similar wealth and power.   Breaking the incestuous cycle of education, wealth & power cannot be achieved by breaking just one element of the cycle.   The way to make the private education sector more equitable and equal is to use the “leverage” of the charitable status of many private school to promote greater social mobility – finding way of providing “private” education for more children from families who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

A similar, but slightly less “incestuous” situation occurs in other “charity” sectors where the bulk of the charity’s income comes from “charitable trading” – selling their “charitable” services to those who can afford to pay for it (with just token provision of services for “the poor and those in need” – eg: the health and social care sectors).

So, the answer to the question is “Yes”, some radical review of the “charitable” status of private schools is overdue – but ONLY as just one element of a radical reform of the whole spectrum of “charitable trading”.

After all – most commercial organisations (my local butcher, for example) deliver “public benefit” – if they didn’t they’d go out of business. Organisations like Nuffield Health and private schools meet the Charities Act criteria because their core activities happen to fit neatly within one, or more, of the charitable objects defined by the Charities Act.   I had intended to try to find a legitimate charitable purpose to get my local butcher registered as a charity – but escalating business rates forced him out of business.   Had he become a charity, the 80% discount on business rates that he would have then been entitled to might have saved him.   It is outrageous that Nuffield Health, and other, “charitable” hospitals get the charity 80% discount on their business rates while NHS hospitals do not.

So here’s another outrageous suggestion !
How about modifying the Charities Act to add the criteria that an organisation can only be charitable if either at least half of its income comes from charitable donations (ie: NOT from payments for goods or services from beneficiaries or from “commercial” – including local government – contracts to provide those goods or services) or at least half of its workforce are unpaid volunteers ?   Existing “charitable traders”, eg: Nuffield Health, and many private schools, would have to convert to another not-for-profit structure (eg: Community Interest Company, CIC), or become an ordinary commercial company (like the small local private school that another of our grandsons attends).   But those which remain would, at least, more closely resemble what the “ordinary person on the Clapham omnibus” understands to be “charities”.

 

Note: This Charity Thought represents the personal views of one of the Trustees of Small Charity Support.   But all the Trustees have authorised its inclusion on the Small Charity Support website.