Report details the failure of charity to address complaints.
The Trust is governed by the Will of Amy Marion Dwyer. In her Will, dated 9 March 1949, Ms Dwyer bequeathed both capital and income to the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA, registered charity number 208217), requesting they take responsibility for the maintenance of her mother’s grave in Bournemouth Cemetery. The Will included property that was rented out, and had an annual income of over £5,000. The Charity Commission took the view that it was a charitable fund, and therefore liable for compulsory registration.
In April 2011, the Charity Commission received concerns from the PDSA about the administration of the Trust, as its beneficiaries. A condition of the Will Trust means that the trustees need authorisation from the beneficiaries to make certain decisions. PDSA’s concerns included:
- trustee payments for professional fees
- unauthorised investments
- losses resulting from the trustees’ failure to review rental agreements on the properties owned by the charity (PDSA claimed rents were below average, and could have generated more revenue)
The trustees’ failed to respond to the Commission’s correspondence and requests in it and so the Commission opened a statutory inquiry on 9 May 2012 into the charity, under section 46 of the Charities Act 2011.
The investigation looked at:
- the administration, governance and management of the charity
- whether or not the trustees had complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities under charity law; particularly in relation to benefits received by the trustees and the investment of the charity’s funds
As a result of the Commission’s intervention, the charity was registered on 13 November 2012.
The inquiry found the trustees had not properly turned their attention to dealing with the issues connected with PDSA’s complaints. It found they did not take the necessary or reasonable steps to deal with the claims and regularise matters despite numerous chances to resolve the situation.
On 20 January 2014 the Commission issued an Order made under section 84 of the Charities Act 2011, requiring the trustees to carry out a review of the charity’s governance and identify the actions they will take to resolve the PDSA’s claims. The actions must be taken by 20 August 2014 and the Commission is monitoring the trustees’ progress.
The charity informed the Commission in March 2014 that a representative of HGW Solicitors had been appointed to deal with the Trust administration and had taken over the day to day management of the charity.
Michelle Russell, Head of Investigations and Enforcement, said:
This case shows how a charity’s failure to take complaints seriously and resolve concerns will be treated seriously by the Commission.
This is a case which involved a charity created in a will; executors of wills and those dealing with probate should remember that where these charitable trusts have some degree of longevity and meet the income threshold for registration, they must be registered with the Commission.
In this case, the trustees were appointed as partners in a firm of professional advisers. The charity sector relies heavily on the experience and skills of solicitors, accountants and other professionals, both as advisers and trustees. What happened here is a timely reminder that all trustees have responsibilities and duties under charity law and where personnel in solicitors or accountancy firms are appointed to roles in charities they do need to make sure they are clear about what their duties and responsibilities are and the firm has adequate arrangements in place ensuring smooth succession and proper oversight of charitable will trusts.
The inquiry closed on 25 July 2014.
The full statement of the result of the inquiry can be read on the Charity Commission website.
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Notes to editors
- The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. See www.charitycommission.gov.uk for further information.
- Our mission is to be the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:
- charities know what they have to do
- the public know what charities do
- charities are held to account