Charity trustees’ responsibilities

The responsibilities of charity trustees are one of the most common areas for questions from our clients. This is not surprising given that charity trustees can carry significant personal risks in return for volunteering their time and support. In the main though, what is expected of a trustee is relatively straight forward and not that onerous in practice.

These responsibilities are set out in law through the Trustee Act 2000 and summarised through Charity Commission guidance (“Charity trustee: what’s involved (CC3a)”). The main responsibilities are:

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  • Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit
  • Comply with your charity’s governing document and the law
  • Act in your charity’s best interests
  • Manage your charity’s resources responsibly
  • Act with reasonable care and skill
  • Ensure your charity is accountable

Of these, the one that is the most subjective, and hence gives rise to the most concern amongst trustees, is how to ensure that they act with “reasonable care and skill”. What does this mean? How is it defined? The Charity Commission guidance explains this by stating that a trustee:

  • Must use reasonable care and skill, making use of their skills and experience and taking appropriate advice when necessary
  • Should give enough time, thought and energy to their role, for example by preparing for, attending and actively participating in all trustees’ meetings

The good news is that this does not mean that a trustee has to be an expert in all fields. In many respects, the expectation is that a trustee will give as much care and attention to the affairs of the charity as they would give to their own. They should also be aware of their own limitations and seek external professional advice where they don’t have appropriate technical knowledge and experience.

This also means that the expectations of individual trustees within a charity may be a different. A qualified solicitor on the board of a trust will be expected to apply their professional knowledge and expertise in relation to charity matters. There is therefore a higher level of expectation of the solicitor trustee in relation to legal matters than would be the case of a trustee with no legal background.

It is always worth remembering that it is possible for a charity to take out insurance to protect its trustees should something go wrong. Please contact Carrie Arnold (carrie.arnold@mitchellcharlesworth.co.uk) who is one of our insurance experts if you would like to discuss this.

We can only scratch the surface of trustee responsibilities in a short article, but at Mitchell Charlesworth, we have many years’ experience advising clients in these areas and would be happy to answer any questions or discuss any issues that you may have.

To assist charities and trustees to meet their responsibilities, we have produced a helpful checklist of board policies and procedures which can be printed off or downloaded and saved for future use. If you would like a copy of this then please send an email to Cara Bartlett (cara.bartlett@mitchellcharlesworth.co.uk)

If you have any queries or require further information please contact our team.

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