Cost-of-living crisis ‘means extremely challenging times ahead’– Charity Commission chief Helen Stephenson

Financial pressures will continue to put pressure on the charity sector in 2023, the chief exec predicts
Volunteers collecting donations for the needs of Ukrainian migrants Source: Alamy

By Civil Service World

20 Dec 2022


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?   

It was a genuine thrill to be back in the company of so many charity trustees at our annual public meeting in Cardiff this autumn. It was our first, large-scale hybrid event since the pandemic and it was heartening to hear stories of the vital work carried out by charities over what has been and continues to be a difficult time, as well as reach out to trustees based in Wales. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?  

The speed of the invasion of Ukraine caught many by surprise and had a far-reaching impact on our work. We played an important role in helping people in the UK channel their desire to help in ways that were safe and had the potential to make a real difference to those suffering the effects of the war in Ukraine.  

We provided advice to those wishing to set up new charities – but often the best way to help those in need is to support existing, established charities. As part of this, we worked to inform the public on the safest ways to donate, including by pointing to the DEC’s appeal – which at the time of writing has raised an astonishing £389m.  

“It’s tough to see charities facing difficult decisions, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic” 

Simultaneously, we published bespoke guidance for charities, sharing critical information for those operating in the conflict area. We also worked quickly to investigate charities with trustees under sanction by the UK government, freezing several hundred million pounds of charity assets in the process. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the Charity Commission in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet that challenge as an organisation?  

The rollout of the online My Commission Account will present both a challenge and a huge opportunity for the Charity Commission. The individual online login for all trustees has the potential to transform our relationship with trustees, helping them get it right, including by making it simpler to submit key data and to access our advice.  

By making the relationship more personal, we hope to better support charity trustees. The majority of users will be onboarded in 2023 – and while we’re looking forward to this the perils of such large-scale digital infrastructure projects are well documented! 

And personally, as a leader?  

The cost-of-living crisis isn’t going away, which will mean extremely challenging times ahead for charities and their beneficiaries. It’s tough to see the charitable sector facing difficult decisions, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. Our staff are also experiencing the challenge personally, but also care deeply for the wellbeing of the sector, so it’s important to support them too. Thankfully, ours is a very resilient and resourceful sector – my job is to ensure that charities can survive and ultimately thrive this year. 

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?  

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy peaceful, drama-free Christmas breaks from work – and in admitting that, I’m probably tempting fate and this year will go awry. Wish me luck! 

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