I was going to apologise for yet another post about the Charity Commission, but on reflection why should I? This is 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 (CAM) contains major errors of fact and logic, but that they refuse to update it. They did say however that my own review of the guidance would be circulated internally, as case officers also have to take into account updated information as well as approved guidance when making decisions. So I decided to see whether that had had any effect.
I selected two charities from a long list of those which promote unfounded `health care’ practices and hence breach the legal requirement to provide public benefit. These were:
Cancer Active (charity 1102413), and their claim is:
Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer
This is the heading to a long article that originates from What Doctors Don’t Tell You. It’s not at all new as most readers will know, and indeed I have complained about it before to the Charity Commission (in March 2012, and they ignored it). I pointed out to Cancer Active that their headline and article breached consumer law and most likely The Cancer Act 1939 and got this reply:
Our website represents a large collection of articles that have appeared in our magazine. This article was in WDDTY.
We state quite clearly that this article does not reflect the views of CANCERactive. In fact, our major contributor, Chris Woollams, has published his own views on the need for more research on Homeopathy and the lack of justified claims.
In this instance, he reviewed the clinical trials at the time, and had been in contact with MD Anderson. Only recently, he communicated directly with Banerji and the doctor at MD Anderson who was involved. Given Chris’ daughter died of a brain tumour, you can rest assured, he is doubly questioning of any claims. As a result of the above, we see little reason to remove the article.
The Milton Keynes Reiki Cancer Support Group (charity 1115912), and their claims are:
Reiki is a universal life force energy which is channelled through the practitioner to the recipient through the hands.
In can help any number of conditions, including long term illness, by strengthening the body, mind and spirit.
On this page there is a video featuring Dr Rosy Daniel (yes she does pop up all over the place) among others. The video claims that reiki is helpful for stress related conditions, acute injury, and surgery. A pilot study in hysterectomy was mentioned, claiming reductions in surgery time and post-op pain medication. Other conditions cited were arthritis, and depression. I asked the charity for evidence for these claims, especially the hysterectomy pilot study, and received a list of broken and irrelevant links, and one poor quality study in colonoscopy. Hilariously, one of the links was to the Good Thinking Society! But the URL was wrong. Nice to see such attention to detail.
I then submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, who responded very quickly:
Your Complaint: Milton Keynes Reiki Cancer Support Group
Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority regarding efficacy claims about Reiki healing treatment.
We believe you’ve made valid a point and that the ad you make reference to is clearly in breach of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP).
In cases like this, the ASA don’t need to investigate the case in order to determine whether there’s a problem in the ad; we already know the ad is in breach of the Code and our positions. In this type of situation, we can refer matters straight to the CAP Compliance Team, who can take appropriate action. They are able to apply sanctions for those that don’t comply and refer matters to Trading Standards, where appropriate. This is what we have done with this case; we have referred it to the CAP Compliance Team to take action.
Because of the possible breach of The Cancer Act I submitted a complaint about Cancer Active to Trading Standards, via Citizens Advice as required. I received an acknowledgement from Citizens Advice on 16th December 2015 and have heard nothing since. Par for the course I’m afraid.
It was now time to refer these charities to the Charity Commission. You’ll be interested in their replies:
Milton Keynes Reiki Cancer Support Group
Many complaints against charities, or disputes involving charities, are brought to our attention. We can only become involved in cases where our powers and responsibilities enable us to and where we can be of use.
We can only become involved in matters which are within our jurisdiction. Details of the types of issues which we can become involved in, is contained on our website under the following link:
A charity is registered with us if it is set upon charitable objectives. The objects of this charity are stated as:
The relief of sickness of those suffering from conditions variously known as cancer, in the Milton Keynes area, and their helpers and families by: the provision of reiki, reflexology, Indian head massage, counselling, information, non-medical advice and support.
These objects include other means of relieving sickness, not just the provision of reiki. In any event, it is not within our remit to comment on the efficacy of any particular treatments.
We hope that we have explained why the Charity Commission will not be taking any further action here.
The role of the Charity Commission is very limited in a case like this. The charity has objects that declare exclusively charitable purposes according to the laws of England and Wales. On that basis, the charity has gone through the registration process and has been registered.
The Charity Commission has no authority in medical matters. This means that we cannot as the regulator of charities in England and Wales determine whether homeopathy is, or is not, an effective treatment for cancer. Such matters are for the medical authorities and the Courts to decide.
………you may wish to contact the medical authorities who may be able to advise on whether the claims constitute a breach of other laws falling outside the Charity Commission’s jurisdiction.
So in both cases it’s “not my job guv”. Well Charity Commission, sorry but it is. You are the regulator under the Charities Act 2011, which states in section 4 (1):
In this Act “the public benefit requirement” means the requirement in section 2(1)(b) that a purpose falling within section 3(1) must be for the public benefit if it is to be a charitable purpose
Now section 2(1)(b) cited here says that “a charitable purpose is a purpose which……is for the public benefit (see section 4).” Section 3(1) contains a long list of accepted charitable purposes. Among these, and on which the charities in question must presently rely, is “the advancement of health or the saving of lives”. Now a charity founded on nonsensical beliefs about how the body works, and lacking any robust data to support the claims they make to beneficiaries and donors, can’t possibly have a charitable purpose. So how is any of this outside the jurisdiction of the Charity Commission? The Charities Act is central to what they do and very clearly sets out their terms of reference.
Importantly, what about that promise to use my review of the guidance to update case officers? It obviously hasn’t happened so far, as they are still following the same process of making ridiculous statements and trying to offload responsibility.
OK, I’m not a lawyer, but to even my untutored eye it looks as if the appointed custodian of the charities sector is willfully ignoring the law of the land. But what do you think? If you agree with me, what about helping to ramp up the pressure? I have hardly scratched the surface so far of the body of charities which should never have been given such status.