Charity regulator investigations increasingly complex: ACNC report

Posted on 23 Oct 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia


Almost a third of concerns raised with the charities regulator in the past financial year related to individuals using a charities money for personal gain.

A quarter of the 2,106 concerns involved mismanagement of charity funds, according to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) 2022-2023 Annual Report.

The report revealed 55 investigations by the regulator were finalised, a number lower than the 96 completed the previous year partly due to the “increased complexity of the cases.”

Investigations resulted in the registrations of seven organisations being revoked, while 30 charities were given advice on how to resolve governance issues.

ACNC 2022-2023 Annual Report

The report, tabled in federal parliament, revealed the ACNC worked on several joint investigations with other national and state-based agencies.

The report also revealed:

  • The ACNC participated in almost 200 charity sector conferences and forums.
  • The Regulator made 20 submissions to government, including to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Philanthropy.
  • There were 20 million views of the ACNC website.
  • The Commission responded to more than 22,932 phone inquiries and 12,000 written inquiries.
  • The ACNC appeared before Senate Estimates in Canberra three times and responded to 26 Freedom of Information requests.
ACNC ten year stats snip
Ten years of the ACNC.

The report showed the Commission failed to meet two of its eight service standards.

While an improvement on the previous year, the commitment to decide on submissions to change a charity's registered details within 15 days fell short of the 90% benchmark, increasing from 59% to 67%.

ACNC logo

The percentage of investigations finalised within 12 months also fell to just over half, well below the 75% benchmark.

The regulator said this was due to a range of factors, including the increasing complexity of investigations, a significant multi‑charity investigation, changed processes to improve the integrity of investigation outcomes, and staff vacancies.

“As someone who envisioned the establishment of a regulator and was here at the ACNC’s beginning, it is a pleasure to see how far the ACNC has come,”
ACNC Commissioner Sue Woodward

As revealed exclusively by ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward last month in the Community Advocate, the regulator processed 5,535 charity registration applications.

About 100 applications were refused, with most of the others either closed because they were incomplete or withdrawn because the applicant became aware after discussions that they did not meet eligibility requirements.

The 2022-2023 Annual Report is the first under Commissioner Woodward, who began her term last December.

Sue Woodward
ACNC Commissioner Sue Woodward.

Ms Woodward said a fresh focus on consultation has strengthened the regulators work to build public confidence in the sector.

She said the report demonstrates the breadth of the Commission’s work and achievements.

“In 2022–23, we strengthened our focus on consultation with the sector and on maximising the impact of our data, such as that available on the Charity Register, which is viewed millions of times each year.”

The ACNC also launched its Governing Charities online learning program, a suite of 12 free online learning courses to support charity leaders.

Ms Woodward said charities delivered a clear message that advocacy was an important area of their work and they wanted greater clarity on the rules relating to this.

“We spent time in a range of forums emphasising that charities have the right to advocate to further their charitable purpose,” she said.

“We added specific details about the (Voice) referendum to our guidance anticipating that charities would need that confirmation.”

The report sets out key achievements in the decade since the ACNC was established, which include improved data on the Charity Register, cuts to red tape for charities and the creation of a new Charity Data Hub, designed to consolidate ACNC publications and data about registered charities.

“As someone who envisioned the establishment of a regulator and was here at the ACNC’s beginning, it is a pleasure to see how far the ACNC has come,” said Ms Woodward.

“I aim to build on its success by evolving our regulatory approach further and responding to changes in the sector, while also ensuring we get the fundamentals right.”

More information

Australians more generous to the tune of $676 million: ACNC report

Understanding whether your charity registration will be successful

Charities regulator flags top challenges for the sector

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