Sue Barker is the director of Sue Barker Charities Law, a boutique law firm based in Wellington, specialising in charities law and public tax law.  She spoke to our Club on 12 April about the review of the Charities Act 2005, and what this could mean for NZ Charities moving forward.
Brent Gerard reports
Since its founding in 2012, Sue's firm has won a number of awards, including Boutique Law Firm of the Year at the New Zealand Law Awards. 
Sue's passion for charities and trusts shines through as she presented on the current Bill introduced in September last year for the review of the Charities Act 2005. 
Work to modernise the Charities Act was prompted by changes in the wider operating environment for charities, feedback from the charitable sector, relatively low and decreasing rates of compliance with the Charities Act, and changes to other legislation that charities need to comply with. 
Sue gave us a different view of where charities fit in the world view. In her view there are government based entities, private entities and charities. Charities generally represent the marginalised sector of society – the poor, the oppressed, the misunderstood and the people who want to change the world for the better.  
In 2015, new financial reporting standards for charities were introduced. Smaller charities say that these reporting standards create a high compliance burden. Over time, the rates of compliance with annual return filing have declined – it’s getting harder for small charities to continue, and many are throwing in the towel despite the level of compliance being tiered based on size of income. 
The Bill is offering wider levels of appeal to the Charities Regulator but also imposes annual compliance checks, more strict levels of checks and broader liability on charity officers, amendments to penalties  (making them more severe for higher levels of wrongdoing).  
While tightening the compliance environment, it also puts more restraints on charities and Sue believes that this can have a skewed environment for charities to operate in. Only already strong, or very well-funded charities can survive which diminishes the voices for the minorities or new charities who rely totally on voluntary services. It’s a very interesting space and we need to be careful that we don’t allow overbearing governance and reduce the ability for charities to push on and keep up the their good work.