Charity Commission receives assurances that charities can “speak out” on Universal Credit

The Charity Commission says it has “sought and received assurances” that charities dealing with Universal Credit “are not prevented from speaking out about any challenges” faced by those claiming the benefit. 

The news comes after The Times reported that organisations which have signed contracts as part of their role of helping Universal Credit applicants “must support the policy’s implementation where it affects their work”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey MP has been criticised following the revelation by The Times. Photo: Number 10.

Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy, Planning and Communications at the Charity Commission, said: “The public rightly expect charities to put the interests of those they help first, and that will sometimes mean speaking truth to power. It is vital charities are free to do this.

We have sought, and received, assurances from DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] that charities in contracts to deliver elements of the Universal Credit programme are not prevented from speaking out about any challenges that recipients may be facing.”

The body, which regulates UK charities, has guidance on charities and political activity, which states that a charity “may give its support” to specific party policies “if it would help achieve its charitable purposes”.

The document also says that a charity “must stress its independence” and that any involvement with political parties is “balanced”.

“A charity must not give support or funding to a political party, nor to a candidate or politician,” it reads.

The Times’ report also found that the contract states signatories “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the work and pensions secretary, prohibiting them from doing anything which could “damage the reputation” of the secretary of state or “attract adverse publicity”.

In a letter to Esther McVey MP, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood MP called for the minister to publicly announce that the clauses will be removed by the Government, describing it as “unacceptable”.

“The human suffering already caused by the failed roll out of Universal Credit is unacceptable, and the next phase could bring even more severe problems.

“All civil society organisations, whether or not they are contractors of your Department, must have the right to speak out about this injustice. And yes, that must include the right to criticise you and your work.

“This is not a bureaucratic technicality; it is a fundamental element of democratic accountability,” she wrote.

In a statement to The Mirror, a DWP spokesperson said: “It’s completely untrue to suggest that organisations are banned from criticising Universal Credit.

“As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.”

The spokesperson then went on to add that it is in place to “safeguard any commercial sensitive information” for both the government and the organisation in question.

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