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Society – EA conference on legal matters

May 2018

Fiona Bruce – UK Parliament official portraits 2017
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Over 300 church and charity leaders packed into St Mary’s Church London, on 20 February 2018, for a day conference entitled ‘Above and Beyond’. This gave specialist advice and updates on governance, legal matters and charity regulations, and was organised by the Evangelical Alliance. Shirin Aguiar reports on key points made during the day.

In her keynote speech Fiona Bruce MP pointed to the one parliamentarian in history more respected than any other: William Wilberforce. She said, ‘Only ever a backbencher, never a minister, but over a period of decades two centuries ago, he led the fight against the slave trade. He was crystal clear about what motivated him to do so. It was his Christian faith’.

Christian motivation

She reminded delegates that Christians can undertake all the social action in the world, but it will stay in this world unless we are as clear and outspoken today as our forebears were about what motivates us — about our Christian faith, which is ultimately making Jesus known.

Without that, she said, we will never fulfil ‘the ultimate commandment, the Great Commission’, to bring the message of eternal life, the gospel of Christ, to people who are hurting, lonely and vulnerable. Mrs Bruce quoted Romans 10:14: ‘How can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One in whom they have not heard?’

She gave examples of many others, similarly clear and public in their Christian faith, who have been engaged in reforming work, social action or public life. She said: ‘Today we stand on the shoulders of these spiritual giants’, and added that ‘tremendous’ pioneering work is being done by Christians Against Poverty, Street Pastors, Hope for Justice which helps trafficked women, Home for Good which helps with fostering and adoption, and many more.

Victoria Hordern
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Helping delegates get to grips with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), new regulations for churches and charities coming into effect in May 2018, Victoria Hordern (head of data privacy at Bates Wells Braithwaite) said data protection was about protecting people, about understanding that their dignity and individual circumstances deserve respect; and appropriately using information about them.

Organisations misusing data can seriously impact people, whether by identity theft or by embarrassing disclosure. Hence, the government has decreed that organisations must be held responsible for their use of personal data.

Safeguarding data

This obligation is intrinsically linked to the right of individuals under European law to data protection and privacy. The GDPR are designed to enable organisations to uphold these rights properly. They will allow the introduction of a variety of helpful data protection tools.

Organisation leaders should think about their key processing activities and how they use personal data concerning members of their organisation and donors. Safeguards are also needed where third parties, such as web hosting companies or payroll providers, look after data.

It is important to raise data protection awareness among staff, who need to understand what safeguards must be put in place; as well as important to go through the practical process of reviewing existing documentation, such as privacy notices, privacy policies, retention policies, IT policies and data protection policies.

Ms Hordern recommended cleansing databases to get rid of old, inaccurate or redundant data. The more databases are trimmed down, the less work will be needed for getting new consents.

Ms Hordern said prior consent must be obtained by non-commercial organisations before direct marketing by email. An organisation must make sure people understand they can opt out from how that organisation uses their data.

In his keynote address, Paul Martin (partner at Wellers Law Group) warned of the reputational damage across the charity sector caused by recent Oxfam exposures, that this damage would be quite considerable, including loss of income and favour with the public.

He said compliance with the law facilitated the better running of churches and Christian organisations, enabling them to deliver their excellent services to those who rely on them.

Failure of compliance within a faith-based organisation, for example in governance, finance or morality, is serious. With society looking to marginalise and discredit religion, if leaders want their message to be heard today they need to ‘up their game’ as to how they run their organisations, including complying with the law. He warned that disputes in governance can disable an organisation.

He said HMRC insists that everything charities do, or spend money on, has to be exclusively charitable and must fit the objects of that charity. HMRC receives a copy of a charity’s filed accounts, he reminded delegates, and ‘are taking seriously the possibility of recovering money from the charity sector’.

Safeguarding people

Outlining a safeguarding framework, Emma Dowden-Teale (partner at Bates Wells Braithwaite) said that safeguarding people is everyone’s responsibility. Leaders should be vigilant with everyone they come into contact with.

She defined a vulnerable adult as someone who may be in need of care and support; or someone who is experiencing or may be at risk of, abuse or neglect, and is unable to protect themselves from it. Caring for such people is a regulated activity that requires appropriate adherence to safeguarding requirements.

If, after an internal disciplinary hearing, a staff member or volunteer is dismissed from an organisation over a safeguarding matter, there is a legal and moral obligation to advise the Disclosure Barring Service, so that the relevant people can be put on the barred list.

Delegate Karen Charles said, by way of sharing her own experience: ‘I’m here to represent Strood Gospel Mission Church, which is in Medway. The legislation about data protection is going to change, and we felt it would be good if one of the deacons or leaders of the church got to grips with all the changes.

‘We’ve started looking at it. Things like this are helpful to summarise it all and give you points of how to implement it when the law changes in May. We want to be prepared.

‘Our church is a Baptist church and we are fully involved in the community. We participate in the Medway night shelter and are fortunate we have been picked to host many people who are vulnerable and need somewhere to sleep on a daily basis, who come to us at night.

‘We made sure we had all the compliance before we got the night shelter. We are blessed that we are able to assist. It makes you very humble seeing other people’s needs. It puts your own needs into perspective’.