Charities watchdog 'struggling with its brief due to budget'
The body set up to oversee the activities of charities in Northern Ireland has said lack of funding and resources means it may take two decades to complete a register of these bodies.
The Charities Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) also says it does not have enough resources to enable it to follow its overall remit properly.
The claims came to light after the Belfast Telegraph obtained copies of two of CCNI's corporate risk registers from this year.
CCNI is a non-departmental public body supported by the Department for Communities. Its stated vision is for "a dynamic and well-governed charities sector in which the public has confidence, underpinned by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland's effective delivery of its regulatory and advisory role".
CCNI's watchwords are fairness, accountability, proportionality, transparency and consistency. However, it claims it is facing increasing difficulty in maintaining or achieving these aims.
When asked how many charities it believes are currently operating in Northern Ireland, a CCNI spokesman said: "We have estimated up to 17,500 charities in Northern Ireland in total." However, there are just over 5,700 registered on its latest register of charities.
It has said "current funding levels do not provide CCNI with adequate resources and stability to meet its statutory remit in introducing a full compliance monitoring regime, building the charity register and keeping it up to date". As a result, it says "building the register of charities could take 21 years to complete."
Other concerns noted by the charities overseer are that the absence of a complete register may mean "risk of not detecting serious issues in the sector which may be visible to the public," and "impact on enquiries with increase in turnaround times" that will leave CCNI "unable to investigate all identified cases of misconduct and mismanagement."
In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities told the Belfast Telegraph it is committed to the earliest possible completion of a charities register. They added: "CCNI's risk register, which is a living document and subject to change, reflects the reality of a finite resource position at a time of significant financial constraint across government and its non-departmental-public-bodies (NDPBs). The department is currently facing a 4% budget reduction in 2017/18 and this has been reflected in the resource funding allocation to its NDPBs, including CCNI. It is the responsibility of NDPBs to prioritise activities within the available resource envelope.