Here in Westminster everyone is talking about either Brexit or the Tory leadership contest. However, there are many other pressing issues that continue to go unnoticed and unresolved.
Take our charitable sector. Right now, most people would accept that charities are doing fantastic work, delivering for communities, families and individuals up and down the country. For example, Essex & Herts Air Ambulance, which operates in my constituency and whose hardworking volunteers I have had the pleasure to meet on a number of occasions, provides a crucial service and has strong community support.
But what most people don’t appreciate is that charities’ ability to raise more money through charity lotteries – and thus do more for our communities – has been severely limited for years because of increasingly outdated legislation.
At present, charity lotteries have stringent limits on how much they can raise for charity each year and in each lottery draw, as well as a cap on their top prize. Many will be surprised that any limit should be imposed on charity fundraising at all, and there is certainly merit in that view. However, at the very least the charity lottery sector needs an increase in the charity lottery limits to allow them to do more.
Indeed, the sector has been calling for an increase in the limits for over six years now. If a week is a long time in politics, that is an eon!
In Spring last year, I chaired a briefing in Parliament in support of changing the law. Specifically, to ask that the annual sales limit is raised to £100 million, and the maximum prize is raised to £1 million – along with changes to help small lotteries in their first year of operation.
A £100 million annual sales limit is the level recommended by the Gambling Commission – the official regulator for both charity lotteries and the National Lottery. They felt that this level would allow charity lotteries to grow whilst protecting the National Lottery. They are the experts in this area, so I see no reason to doubt their evidence and research, which was thorough and considered.
The £100 million limit was then backed by the Government in their public consultation last summer, when they said it was their “preferred option”. However, since the consultation closed in September, progress towards change has been slow. While Government has delayed, charities face paying out more money in bureaucracy to comply with existing limits and rules rather than investing in the frontline services and activities we all support them doing.
As such, the change has huge support in the charity sector with over 85 leading charities backing a change, plus the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Institute of Fundraising and the Hospice Lotteries Association, amongst others. In Parliament, it has received substantial cross-party support with dozens of MPs publicly backing the change.
In regard to a maximum prize limit, the last time the current jackpot level of £25,000 was last reviewed was in 1976. The sector has asked for this to be raised to a modest £1 million per draw regardless of sales. This doesn’t seem at all unreasonable, and is a landmark figure that makes draws attractive to players. There’s also a strong case to remove the restriction that means the maximum prize in a single lottery cannot be more than 10% of gross ticket sales. Given that the National Lottery had just paid out a £123 million top prize to a lucky Euromillions ticket holder, it is clear that there would still be a very clear distinction in prize levels in contrast to the National Lottery!
As Conservatives we should believe in empowering our charities by reducing the regulatory burden and allowing them to do more of what they do best. The changes being proposed by the Lotteries Council – which represents more than 400 charity lotteries across the country – are common sense, achievable through secondary legislation, and crucially come at no cost to the British taxpayer or the Treasury. It feels very much like a win-win to me!
Ministers have pledged to make an announcement before the summer recess. Given the excessive delay to date I urge them to meet that pledge, but to also make their announcement the right announcement, by raising the limits to the levels proposed by the sector – which are modest but will help thousands of charities across the country – literally benefiting every constituency.
By the summer recess we will know who the winner of the Conservative leadership contest is. By making some simple changes in charity lottery law we can ensure thousands of charities can also be winners. Let’s do it!