This is a guest blog from Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, an independent charity which provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence. Christopher has recently joined the Board of Clinks.
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. With the rules changing this year, it’s important to get to grips with what they mean.
There are over 11 million people in this country with a criminal record, and they play a vital role in contributing to 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. However, from 1st August 2018, changes to the ‘automatic disqualification’ rules mean that there will be more restrictions on who can run a charity, particularly affecting trustees and certain senior managers, such as CEOs and Chief Finance Officers.
That’s why we’ve written guidance published today, Leading charities with conviction, with the support of Clinks. It coincides with the opening of the Charity Commission’s new waiver system. From 1st February 2018, people affected by these changes may use the system to apply for advance clearance.
You need to act now
We would rather not have had to write this guidance. We believe the changes to the rules are unnecessary and ineffective. And we know they will have significant consequences for a number of people currently involved in charities. People need to act now in advance of the rules coming into force. 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. In practice, people that will be disqualified from August can apply for a waiver which, if granted, will mean they can continue in their role.
So my message is this: don’t wait until August. If you’re involved in a charity and find that, from reading our guidance, you’ll be disqualified from August 2018 because of your specific criminal record, today (1st February) is the first day from which you can apply for a waiver. If you’re granted a waiver, it means you’re no longer disqualified.
It’s also important that charities themselves get to grips with these changes too. Understanding of the current rules is limited, so it won’t be surprising if these changes are met with confusion and uncertainty by charities. Charities will need to update their recruitment processes to reflect the changes to the rules. That’s why we’ve worked with Clinks, the national infrastructure charity that supports the voluntary sector working in criminal justice in England and Wales, to produce simple, easy to use guidance and tools which will help boards of trustees, senior staff and HR managers understand what they need to do to prepare.
Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding. People affected need to apply for waivers before the changes come into force. 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. Over the coming months we will be supporting individuals that are applying for a waiver, and continuing our policy work with the Charity Commission.
We’re doing all that we can to raise awareness across the broader charitable sector, and I’m looking forward to speaking at the NCVO’s regulation conference next week as part of that. We’re also planning some workshops with Clinks to support charities working in criminal justice around the changes to these rules. Look out for updates in Clinks’ Light Lunch ebulletin.