The Charity Commission – so near and yet so far

Some things take time, and it’s rewarding to get even a tiny bit of progress. My effort to get the Charity Commission to introduce an evidence-based policy has at last reached the stage of a reasonably sensible dialogue, but not yet any meaningful action. To recap, there are several charities that make misleading health claims, homeopathy of course being a prime example. I have been asking the Commission why they granted charity status to these organisations, when they clearly fail the public benefit test. For the full back story read my posts here, here, here and here – in reverse order.

All along I have been asking the Commission to put me in contact with someone responsible for its policy. I could only achieve this by raising a complaint about the service level. The complaints officer forwarded my email to Jo Edwardes, Head of Policy Strategy and Projects. Her reply received on 16th December 2015 was substantive and encouraging, beginning thus:

I am grateful to you for taking the time to set out very clearly the substance of your concerns. OG 304 is part of a series of internal staff guidance, known as Operational Guidance (or OGs). OGs cover our policy and practice based on charity law. They are written for our staff to help them carry out their work in a fair and consistent way. They are designed to make the legal background to our policy clearer and for staff to access more easily the information to help them as they take forward a case. Because we are committed to conducting our work as openly as possible, we publish OGs (excluding any confidential information) on our website.

As you will know from my last post, OG304 is at the root of this issue, as it contains a mish-mash of sensible advice about evidence, and totally illogical and factually erroneous content. I have posted my full critique of OG304 at Hypothes.is (click on the left arrow at top right of your screen to see annotations). I won’t post here in its entirety Ms Edwardes’ justification for OG304, but here are some salient clips:

….whilst our OGs can give general guidance to our staff when making decisions in individual cases, we also advise caseworkers to take internal advice (from a mentor or legal officer) to ensure they have regard to the most up to date policy and practice and to take into account the particular circumstances of their case.

Hmmmm…so why has my case worker stuck slavishly to the same boilerplate statements throughout, and not considered the facts and the evidence? The odd thing though is that the case worker repeatedly said that the Commission does not have experts in health care evidence, implying that they can be excused for not knowing what it is. Yet here they are apparently told to obtain advice from the said non-expert internal staff.

We do not have any current plans to review OG304, but we will take your very helpful, detailed comments into consideration when it is next reviewed.

I subsequently asked what would trigger such a review. There is apparently no standard review cycle, and I could not obtain any commitment to do it.

…the onus is on a charity, or organisation seeking to register as a charity, to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the particular complementary or alternative therapy or treatment it advances will tend to promote health. This means that there is an empirical, scientific evidence base for the claims made…

Again, how could that be clearer? And how could homeopathy charities possibly comply? Strangely, I was referred to a case which clearly did show that the Commission can treat claims rigorously, that of a rifle shooting association which tried to get charitable status. Their claim was no better or worse that those for say homeopathy or reiki or aromatherapy, and they failed. So why do the latter succeed?

Jo Edwardes concluded with:

…I do hope that this response gives you some reassurance regarding our commitment to having evidence-based policy and decision making.

There is always a subtext to any written exchange, and the Commission’s dilemma shines through what she says. I may be reassured that they know what they need to do, but not that they actually will do it. If they do what they know to be right, they will have to withdraw tax-exempt status from a good number of charities. They will doubtless face huge opposition and probably legal action (some charities are wealthy). This should not stop them from doing it. They need to take action now, or they will be forced to grant charitable status to every crackpot health fad in the future.

Jo Edwardes also pointed out that underlying this difficult situation is a severely reduced resource for maintaining operational guidance. I am entirely sympathetic to this, but with regard to OG304 I have already given them the material that they need in order to update it. I even offered to rewrite it for them, but that was declined.

So what’s the next step? The best I have achieved is that the Commission will circulate my comments on OG304 to case officers dealing with relevant cases. We can find out if this is actually having an effect by submitting some new complaints. Here is a list of charities making misleading health claims:

Name

Number

Website

Homeopathy In Africa

1125981

http://ghanahomeopathy.org/

Homeopathy Action Trust

328537

www.homeopathyactiontrust.org/

Homeopathy: Medicine For The 21st Century

1124711

www.hmc21.org/

Reflexology Outreach International

1105706

www.roi.org.uk/

Milton Keynes Reiki Cancer Support Group

1115912

Www.reikigroupmk.co.uk

Vaccine Awareness Network

1072794

http://www.vaccineriskawareness.com/

The Maun Homeopathy Project

1109958

www.homeopathybotswana.com/

Friends of the RLHIM

269289

http://www.friendsrlhim.org/

Harrogate Christian Spiritual Healing Church

1053202

www.harrogatespiritualhealingchurch.btck.co.uk/News

Gentle Touch Healing

 1105985

www.gentletouchhealing.org.uk/

Cancer Active

1102413

http://www.canceractive.com/

Not by any means an exhaustive list. Another thought occurs to me. Some of these may well be subject to complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority and/or Trading Standards. What if such complaints have been upheld, but the Charity Commission still refuses to challenge charitable status? Their position would surely be doubly untenable.

 

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2 Responses

  1. […] of HAT fall within the definition of charitable activities. The blogger Majikthyse has undertaken extensive investigation and communication with the Charity Commission on the subject of such homeopathic charities. The […]

  2. […] a serious matter and whatever I do the Commission seems more determined to look silly. You’ll recall that they have accepted that their internal guidance on complementary and alternative medicine […]

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