The independent charity regulator, the Charity Commission, yesterday launched a dedicated unit to oversee faith-based charities.
The moves comes as questions are increasingly asked about whether the more political activities of some religious groups should qualify for charitable funding, and concerns that some religious groups are discriminating in employment and the delivery of services.
The new Faith and Social Cohesion unit will aim to 'strengthen the governance of faith-based charities'. It also hopes to improve understanding of faith-based charities and the contribution they make.
The new unit will be headed by Ghulam Rasool who has been involved in interfaith initiatives and religious education. He has also worked on projects with young people to promote tolerance and understanding between different faith and ethnic groups.
The new Faith and Social Cohesion Unit will build on the findings of a two year programme of workshops with representatives from over 800 faith-based organisations across 11 different faiths.
Events were held with Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist communities as well as special meetings with the UK's smaller faiths such as Baha'i and Zoroastrianism, and a special multi-faith event for women only.
The Faith and Social Cohesion Unit, a dedicated team to be a specific point of contact and source of advice on issues affecting faith-based charities. The unit's initial programme of work will focus primarily on Muslim charities and organisations, while a new Faith Advisory Group of external advisers from a range of faiths will play an important role in advising the Commission on policy and issues affecting all faith-based charities.
Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission, said: "The number and variety of faith-based charities reflects the diversity of modern Britain. Charities are often motivated by religious belief and are important vehicles in bringing people together for the common good, and in building bridges across communities.
"Our programme of listening to and learning from faith-based groups has taught us a lot about how we can better serve their needs. Our new Faith and Social Cohesion Unit will enable us to continue and develop our work with faith-based charities, by promoting good practice and providing specialist advice, guidance and training to trustees.
"Our new Unit will focus initially on Muslim organisations: not only is Islam Britain's second largest faith, but time and time again Muslim charities have asked us for help in strengthening their governance and tackling the lack of understanding and mistrust about their work within society. As the independent regulator of charities we have a duty to increase public trust and confidence in all charities operating in England and Wales."
Ghulam Rasool, Head of the Faith & Social Cohesion Unit, said: "Faith-based charities are one of the fastest growing elements of the voluntary sector, and they make a huge contribution to communities across England and Wales. The Charity Commission has an essential part to play in celebrating the strength and vibrancy of this part of the sector and in supporting faith-based charities so they can maximise this contribution."
In 2004 the Charity Commission began a long-term project aimed at extending the Commission's work with different faith groups. The first phase of work began with Independent Evangelical Churches, working specifically on developing model governing documents and building a positive relationship with these churches. The second phase involved a series of workshops with charities from a range of faiths. The Commission held 15 events between 2005 and 2007 with 800 delegates across 11 different faiths.