Making it easier to set up and run a charity, social enterprise, or voluntary organisation


Charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations (also known as the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector) exist to help others, often helping people to improve their lives and communities. A vibrant civil society can also make a big contribution to economic growth and better public services.

These organisations are sometimes frustrated by red tape or other problems, or because they don’t have the support they need to do their work.

We want to make it easier to set up and run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation, and for organisations to get the help and support they need to grow and be able to carry out more of their important work.


We are removing red tape and improving regulation by:

We are improving the support available to VCSE organisations by:

We will help the VCSE sector grow its skills and leadership talent, and manage new opportunities and risks better by:

We have extended an exception (allowing some religious charities not to register with the Charity Commission) until 31 March 2021. This will give the charities and the Charity Commission time to prepare as all charities move towards consistent regulation.


The Office for Civil Society was created to support and strengthen the varied range of organisations that make up civil society. Its long term strategy is built around 3 goals:

  • make it easier to run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation
  • get more resources into the sector and strengthen its independence and resilience
  • make it easier for civil society organisations to do business with the state

These were set out in Building a stronger civil society: a strategy for voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises, published in 2010.

The Coalition programme for government included the government’s plans for reform and set out how government intends to give communities more power and encourage people to take an active role in their communities.

Who we’ve consulted

In May 2012, the Civil Society Red Tape Challenge put 3 questions to the public and civil society organisations (CSOs) about what they think will make it easier to be able to run or be involved in a civil society organisation:

  • is there red tape that stops you giving your time or money?
  • if you run a civil society organisation are there rules and regulations that stop you making it more successful?
  • should it be easier to invest in social ventures?

The Civil Society Red Tape Challenge was open to answers and suggestions from May to mid-September 2012. We are now taking action to tackle the existing rules and regulations that are getting in the way of civil society organisations.

Bills and legislation

The Charities Act 2011 provides the legal and regulatory framework for charities in England and Wales and combines previous charity legislation. The act covers important rules, such as the definition of a charity, the requirement of charities to register with the Charity Commission, and how to prepare and submit annual accounts and reports.

The Charities Act 1992 and Charities Act 2006 contain some important rules on fundraising.

Who we’re working with

As representatives of a broad cross-section of civil society organisations, the Office for Civil Society Strategic Partners help their members understand and benefit from new opportunities arising from the government’s localism, open public services and giving agendas.

The Office for Civil Society Strategic Partners programme funds 8 VCSE sector partners to:

  • represent the sector to government
  • support partners so they can become independent of government funding
  • support the development of a stronger civil society by running training and development activities, contributing to policy development, and working with civil society organisations

We are providing around £8.2 million in funding over the 4 year programme. The largest portion is given in the first year with the amount decreasing each year.

There are 8 strategic partners:

  • Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), in partnership with Euclid Network and New Philanthropy Capital (NPC)
  • National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) - including Volunteering England
  • National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)
  • Locality
  • UK Community Foundations (UKCF) in partnership with Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF)
  • Institute of Fundraising
  • Social Entrepreneurship Partnership (School for Social Entrepreneurs, UnLtd, CAN, Plunkett Foundation and Social Firms UK)
  • Social Enterprise UK in partnership with Co-operatives UK

There are 3 main features to the commitments the strategic partners made as part of the programme:

  1. Continued representation of the sector to government and vice-versa, including providing visits and events for ministers and officials – a main requirement of the programme

  2. Office for Civil Society (OCS) Priority Themes – these are a small number of cross-cutting themes that the Strategic Partners work together on and share expertise, with an aim to achieve better results for the sector

  3. Partners’ specific offer to the Office for Civil Society – these activities were included in their original bids to join the programme and, in many cases, involve their core activities and help support the programme’s objectives eg NCVO’s Third Sector Almanac

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