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Maddening red tape that makes running a charity impossible

OVER the last twenty-odd years I have been chairman of a charity which gives grants to enable children to take part in education either more effectively (by providing aids), or to attend events such as the famous summer-term ‘week away’. Families on low incomes and students with financial difficulties have benefited enormously from what we do. Without our input there are many young people from our locality who would not have had the help that they desperately needed in their ‘learning journey’.

Over the last six months, trying to ‘follow the rules’ to run the charity has become dystopian. I would hazard a guess that there are many other charities who are also finding the whole matter utterly frustrating. Which is being polite. I know of at least two which have encountered exactly the same issues as ourselves, with exactly the same bodies.

Firstly, the Charity Commission, in their wisdom, decided to change everything and make us all jump through hoop after hoop in order to be able to do what we are legally required to do – that is, go on to their site, update information regarding the charity, and publish our annual accounts. We are required to do this by law, but the Charity Commission demands about resetting our information are impossible to achieve. And that’s their fault – several months on we still haven’t been sent the information we require from them which would enable us to do so. In fact, their website says we should ring a number for the information: when you do so, a disembodied voice informs you that you need to email them. The emails go unanswered.

So that matter is going nowhere fast. Will it ever be sorted out? Or will we be de-registered for failing to publish accounts?

Secondly, to make things more bleakly maddening, Barclays Bank have decided that, in a move called ‘getting to know your customer’, we have to jump through various hoops there as well. That the charity has had an account with them for thirty-odd years, without any issues whatsoever, counts for nothing. That all the signatories are up to date is irrelevant. That Barclays hold up to half a million pounds of our money counts for nothing. Apparently we have to prove who we are all over again. ‘Just do it’, you might say. If only it were so simple.

They used to have a business centre near us, where you could talk to someone, sort things out, and get clear answers from a human being. No longer. No one can meet with a person any more, it must all be done on the phone. And that challenge is just the first obstacle to overcome. If you haven’t had telephone banking, as we haven’t, it takes several minutes to get through the ‘security’ offered by disembodied voices. Then you sit in a queue waiting for interminable minutes, with the most appalling ‘music’, waiting, waiting, waiting. If you’re fortunate you don’t get cut off and dumped back at the end of the queue. And with those who say they offer a ring-back service, the catch is: ‘This may not be the same day’. This is quite unacceptable – the ‘next day’ is not suitable, which is why I’m calling today! The customer clearly doesn’t matter enough for them to speak to us at a time that suits us.

When you finally get through to someone it isn’t a matter for rejoicing. While waiting you will have heard the disembodied voice telling you, scolding you, repeatedly: ‘The person you’re speaking to isn’t responsible for the wait, so behave or else!’ Yet when you get through to them you are likely to find your call peremptorily cut off mid-stream, and despite having given them your number they never, never, ring back.

The final straw for me came the other day, having found myself speaking to yet another person, in yet another department, when this happened. Half an hour in the phone queue, cut off, back down the snake to the bottom I went. Then one and a half hours in the phone queue, half an hour of nonsense being told we’re not a charity but a trust, even though our Trust Deed is what makes us a charity, followed by twenty minutes of someone else attempting but dismally failing to be helpful, and the call is cut off as they’re about to put me through to a third person, sending me snaking back down, right off the board. No ring-back. No email. No information about what we’re supposed to do to get our accounts sorted out. No help whatsoever.

Frankly, I’d rather have the cash in a tin under the bed, and hand it out as we see fit, without the crushingly dead hands of the Charity Commission and Barclays being involved, as it seems that through their incompetence they’re conspiring to prevent us doing anything at all.

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