Updated guidance as new social investment power for charities comes into force

The Charity Commission has published guidance for trustees about the new social investment power that was introduced on 31 July 2016, as the first phase of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 came into force.

The new interim guidance supplements the Commission’s existing guidance Charities and investment matters (CC14).

The new power was developed and introduced following a programme of work and subsequent Law Commission recommendation in 2014. When introducing the new power in the House of Lords, Lord Bridges of Headley said the intention of the power was to “help charities to make social investments so that they can fulfil their mission in new and innovative ways” and that it would “give charities the confidence and certainty to invest in this growing sector”.

For the first time, social investment has been defined in this legislation. It is defined as a ‘relevant act’ that is carried out ‘with a view to both directly furthering the charity’s purposes and achieving a financial return for the charity’. The guidance explores this definition to provide further advice on what is and is not a social investment.

The new legislation does not alter or override trustees’ general common law duties, and the guidance makes clear that these duties apply to any decision regarding social investments. However, the legislation places specific duties on trustees who are considering making a social investment. Trustees must:

  • consider whether advice ought to be obtained
  • obtain and consider any such advice
  • satisfy themselves that it is in the interests of the charity to make the social investment

Trustees must also review their charity’s social investments from time to time.

Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission, said:

The stated purpose of this power is to give confidence to charities to undertake social investments. The legislation does place further duties on trustees who are considering social investments but these are not intended to be onerous. This updated guidance should help trustees to make well-considered, prudent decisions in this developing area.

We look forward to working with charities and sector bodies as they develop their approach to social investment. The Commission will consider their early experiences of it as part of a future review of its investment guidance in 2017.