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Case update 27 March 2024

Charity Commission races to clear Institute of Economic Affairs


The charity regulator changed its guidance a day after receiving our letter and dismissed a complaint against the radical rightwing Institute of Economic Affairs in 12 days. Why the rush?

When we teamed up with cross-party MPs and a former member of the Charity Commission board to submit a complaint over possible breaches of charity law by the Institute of Economic Affairs, we settled in for a long wait. The Charity Commission has already taken well over a year to address a complaint against another charity.

But the regulator has taken just 12 days to dismiss our 19-page letter of evidence,  declaring it will not “stifle” the “important thinking” of a think-tank widely credited as the inspiration for Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous budget. 

The commission said that guidance issued in 2018 – which we referred to in our complaint – was “issued at a time when the commission decided it was appropriate to remind trustees of charitable think tanks of their duties”.

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“Today,” the letter continued, “the commission feels confident that trustees understand their obligations under charity law, and thus we can confirm that the historic 2018 alert has been withdrawn.”

By “historic” the commission means it was in force until 14 March 2024 – the day after our letter of complaint was submitted.

It was only two days earlier that the commission’s chair, Orlando Fraser – a former Tory parliamentary candidate with links to the fellow rightwing think-tank the Centre for Social Justice – argued in The Times that “political think-tanks deserve their charitable status”. He glossed over details in the regulations which state that charities should “engage equally with all major political parties”, declare that research must avoid presenting “biased and selective information in support of a preconceived point of view” and insisted that think-tanks “need to take particular care when publishing research that contains recommendations of a political nature”.

Dr Andrew Purkis, who joined our complaint and helped draft much of the current guidance while serving on the commission’s board, said he was “troubled” by the lack of serious attention given to our “well-evidenced” complaint.

“We should expect the regulator to investigate this specific complaint with due care on its individual merits,” Purkis said.

The Charity Commission’s troubling response leaves the Institute of Economic Affairs free to keep pushing the messaging of its donors whilst enjoying the public subsidy  and reputational laundering charitable status affords.

We’re considering with our lawyers how we might tackle the regulator’s hands-off approach to regulating the Tories’ ideological allies.