“Ten election policies for charities for 2023 with Sue Barker” – Policies 8&9: put unclaimed money to better use & co-design a civil society strategy

Sue Barker

While the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Gabrielle continues to dominate our focus, behind the scenes, political parties continue to develop their manifestos in the lead-up to this year’s general election. Sue Barker, Director of Sue Barker Charities Law, joins us for a series on 10 election policies for charities for 2023. In the seventh part of the series, Sue shares her insight on putting unclaimed money to better use & co-designing a civil society strategy. She will also be presenting in March at the upcoming Charities and Not for Profits Update.


Policy 8: put unclaimed money to better use

Organisations such as Inland Revenue, the Treasury, the Māori Trustee and Public Trust hold hundreds of thousands of dollars of unclaimed money, only a small portion of which is claimed each year.[1] Why don’t we amalgamate all the various “pots” of unclaimed money into a “social fund”, and put them to work for the benefit of the community, as other jurisdictions have done?[2]


Policy 9: co-design a civil society strategy

The current legal framework for charities is muddled, not fit for purpose, full of unintended consequences and even at times counterproductive. In part, this situation has been allowed to occur because there is no overarching strategic vision of how to maximise the potential of the charitable sector to provide benefits for society.

In August 2018, the United Kingdom government issued a “civil society strategy”, which it described in the following terms:[3]

The government has a vision of the UK with better connected communities, more neighbourliness, and businesses which strengthen society. Technology enables strong communities rather than enabling disconnection and isolation.

Young people and their contribution to a thriving society are recognised as vital, with the ability to help the country tackle its most urgent challenges and deliver a better future for all of us.

People are empowered to take responsibility for their neighbourhoods. Power is decentralised so that local officials and professionals are properly accountable to local people, and trusted to do their job without bureaucratic interference. The provision of services is seen as the business of the community, not solely the responsibility of government, and providers are drawn from a broad range of suppliers from the public sector and beyond. All communities, regardless of levels of segregation and deprivation, are able to take advantage of these opportunities. Alongside public funding, private finance is used imaginatively to support services, stimulate innovation, and reduce risk for the taxpayer.

These developments have the ultimate effect of building a sense of shared identity, improving integration among the people of a place and also among the people of the UK as a whole.

The Civil Society Strategy is intended to set a direction for government policy. A group of civil society leaders wrote to us saying that “[the Strategy] should not be focused on what the government thinks the sector should do … instead [it] should set out how the government can support and enable civil society to achieve its potential”. They also suggested that the Strategy should be “living and breathing”, not a final communication, but the beginning of a process of policy development and collaboration.

That is exactly what we intend to do. … Our purpose is to cast a vision of how government can help strengthen and support civil society in England.

Although there was no legal obligation on the government to publish such a strategy, it forms part of the United Kingdom’s recognition of the existence and value of civil society,[4] and a basis for government and charities to work together to move the vision forward.[5]

While there is much government activity in New Zealand that touches on the charitable sector, it is not coordinated. The New Zealand government acknowledges that achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030[6] will require a whole of government effort working alongside the private sector and civil society;[7] in addition, open civic space can help underpin efforts for an inclusive recovery from the pandemic and disasters such as Cyclone Gabrielle, tackle systemic inequalities in society, and build a more resilient and citizen-centred democracy.[8] The Government acknowledges there are “lessons to be learned” from the pandemic.[9] However, there is no overarching plan for how all of this might be achieved: in the meantime the charitable sector continues to be overlooked and undervalued.

The idea of a civil society strategy is not for government to set an agenda that civil society should be setting for itself, but rather to articulate a vision for how best to unlock the potential of the charitable sector, and the wider civil society in which it sits, thereby reducing its invisibility while also respecting and enhancing its independence and autonomy. Such a purposeful and overarching strategy would guide policy development and help protect against harmful regulation and piecemeal, kneejerk reform.

There are many issues that could be usefully considered as part of designing a civil society strategy. How could the potential of payroll giving be maximised? Could the legal framework for charities better assist the resolution of disputes within charities without requiring individuals to take expensive legal action, for example by better supporting whistleblowers? Would a mediation service assist, similar to the Employment New Zealand Early Resolution Service?[10] How can volunteering be better supported? How can we unlock the balance sheets of philanthropy? How can social investment be enhanced? How can we better support charities carrying out social enterprise activity? What other measures could be adopted to better assist capital to flow to where it is needed? How can we better support the independence of charities and their important role in a liberal democracy? These issues and many others would be usefully considered as part of preparing a civil society strategy.[11]

We call on political parties to co-design with the charitable sector a civil society strategy, articulating a vision for how civil society can best be strengthened and enabled in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sue Barker is the director of Sue Barker Charities Law, a boutique law firm based in Wellington, New Zealand, specialising in charities law and public tax law. Since its founding in 2012, the firm has won a number of awards, including Boutique Law Firm of the Year at the New Zealand Law Awards. Sue is a member of Charities Services’ Sector Group and a member of the Core Reference Group for the review of the Charities Act. Sue is also a co-author of the text The Law and Practice of Charities in New Zealand (LexisNexis, 2013) and a contributor to a number of texts, including Charity Law: Exploring the Concept of Public Benefit (Routledge, 2022) and Regulating Charities: the Inside Story (Routledge, 2017). In 2016, Sue was made an Honorary National Life Member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand Incorporated for her work assisting the Council with charities law issues. In 2019, Sue was awarded the New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellowship Te Karahipi Rangahau ā Taiao, New Zealand’s premier legal research award, to undertake research into the question “What does a world-leading framework of charities law look like?”. Her report Focus on purpose was released in April 2022 making 70 recommendations for charities law reform in Aotearoa New Zealand”. More information about Sue and the research can be found at www.charitieslaw.co and www.charitieslawreform.nz
Contact Sue at susan.barker@charitieslaw.co or connect via LinkedIn

[1] Inland Revenue Te Tari Taake Unclaimed money: <www.ird.govt.nz/unclaimedmoney>.

[2] For a discussion of this issue, see Tessa Vincent “Let’s put unclaimed money to good use” 4 February 2021:


[3] HM Government Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone August 2018: <assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/732765/Civil_Society_Strategy_-_building_a_future_that_works_for_everyone.pdf> at 10 – 11 (footnotes omitted).

[4] Interview with Kenneth Dibble, legal board member of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and former Chief Legal Adviser and Legal Director at the Commission and Director of its International Programme (14 January 2021).

[5] Kirsty Weakley “Charities tell the new civil society minister what they want” Civil Society News 30 July 2019.

[6] The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests”. See: <sdgs.un.org/goals>. See also Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Sustainable Development Goals:


[7] New Zealand Government He Waka Eke Noa Towards a Better Future Together – New Zealand’s Progress towards the SDGs 2019: <sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23333New_Zealand_Voluntary_National_Review_2019_Final.pdf> at 7.

[8] Open Government Partnership Defending Civic Space: How OGP can step up 9 April 2021: <www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/defending-civic-space-how-ogp-can-step-up/>.

[9] Charities Services’ Annual Meeting Address from Hon Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector 14 October 2022: <www.charities.govt.nz/news-and-events/past-events/2022-charities-services-annual-meeting/>.

[10] Employment New Zealand Early Resolution Service: <www.employment.govt.nz/resolving-problems/steps-to-resolve/early-resolution/>.

[11] See S Barker Focus on purpose – what does a world-leading framework of charities law look like? [2022] NZLFRR at 512-515.