Charity Commission to review policy on alternative health charities after challenge by Good Thinking

9053Last week lawyers acting on behalf of the Good Thinking Society wrote to the Charity Commission to challenge the refusal to revoke the charitable status of organisations registered as charities which advocate homeopathy as a means of advancing health and saving lives, warning the Commission that a failure to address our concerns regarding the status of these charities could be unlawful and potentially subject to a Judicial Review[1]. We asked that the Charity Commission revoke the registration of these charities, or commission a full review of policies regarding organisations promoting alternative medicine that cannot show public benefit based on sound scientific evidence. On Friday, the Commission responded to us, committing to a review of the law regarding the advancement of health as a charitable purpose. The Commission envisages that the review, will be completed by July 1st, 2017.

The Good Thinking Society welcomes the Charity Commission’s response and is very pleased to see a sensible timeframe in place for the review. We firmly believe that a well-executed and comprehensive review that will be complete by July 2017 ought to provide the framework for much more effective regulation of health charities, and should avoid the need for further legal action.

Michael Marshall, Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, said: “It is highly encouraging to see the Charity Commission make a clear commitment to reviewing how it applies charity law in relation to alternative medicine. We have very serious concerns regarding a number of charitable organisations which are promoting treatments that are based on no good evidence at all, and in some cases are comprehensively disproven.

“By law a charity must offer a public benefit – clearly the promotion of an ineffective treatment, especially to very ill and vulnerable people, cannot be of benefit to the public. For these organisations to continue promoting such treatments with all of the financial and reputational benefits that being a registered charity offers fundamentally undermines the credibility of the Charity Commission, and by extension the many highly-respectable and worthy charities regulated by it.

“After the review has concluded in July and the Commission takes the necessary action based on the findings, we hope the public will once again be able to trust that when they give their money to a registered charity, they are funding an organisation that will make a positive contribution to society, and – in the case of health charities – offer a genuine benefit to the public’s health and wellbeing”.

Selman Ansari, Senior Consultant, Public Law, Bindmans LLP: “The Charity Commission’s commitment to finally instigate a review that It had previously only discussed in the vaguest of terms, is a positive step towards the proper application of charity law in relation to organisations that currently enjoy charitable status without being able to scientifically demonstrate public benefit.”

Les Rose, retired clinical research scientist: “After over two years of making complaints regarding charities that promote ineffective treatments, all dismissed by the Charity Commission, I’m very glad to see the Commission take this clear step towards regulating health charities and addressing the serious concerns I and many others have over a number of supposedly charitable organisations. Hopefully this will be just the first step to ensuring the public is protected from organisations that would promote quackery under the legitimacy of a registered charity. It is dishonest to solicit public donations for no good reason and to make false promises to vulnerable people.”


Notes for editors

  • Good Thinking Society – the Good Thinking Society is a registered charity set up by science writer Simon Singh to encourage curiosity and promote rational thinking.
  • Bindmans LLP – Bindmans LLP is a central London law firm specialising in public law and human rights, and recognised by Chambers and Partners as having an “unrivalled reputation for its civil liberties and human rights work”.
  • Homeopathy – homeopathy is a 200-year-old system of alternative medicine which relies on the notion that diluting a remedy increases the strength of the remedy, with the most powerful remedies diluted until they contain no active ingredient. It has been widely tested and the best evidence has consistently shown homeopathy to be ineffective. Despite this, the NHS currently spends an estimated £4m per year on homeopathy.
  • Judicial Review – a judicial review is a type of court action in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.
  • The work of Good Thinking is largely funded by its founder Simon Singh, but it also relies on donations from its supporters and the general public via its Just Giving page:

For more information, contact Michael Marshall, Project Director of the Good Thinking Society: