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Saturday, November 01, 2014

CHARITIES COMMISSION: LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FOR LOCAL CHARITIES

Lessons for local charities

An Operational Compliance Report into the Charity ''House the Homeless' has just been published by the Charities Commission. It covers inter-alia the role of a Charity Trustee and the onerous personal financial liability that come with the job.

Peterborough City Cllr Christopher Harper (Con Stanground East) might like to consider his own position in relation to the charity, Stanground Community Centre, a charity, in receipt of substantial public funds lavished on it, over the years, as we believe the accounts as published by the Charities Commission on their website are still not fully publicly recorded. Simply where has the public funding gone?

Operational Compliance Report House the Homeless
House the Homeless Published: 31 October 2014

About the charity House the Homeless is an unregistered charity with objects to relieve poverty by providing accommodation, advice, outreach and support. The charity liaises with social services, HM Prisons and local authorities to help persons who are, or likely to become, homeless.

Why the commission got involved In March 2014, we received a complaint alleging unmanaged conflicts of interest in relation to the charity’s founder, who owned the estate agency, On The House (‘the agency’). The concern was that the founder’s involvement with House the Homeless benefitted his private business interests. There was considerable local press interest in the charity concerning the founder’s significant role in setting up, and apparent control of, the charity operation.

We therefore became involved to examine regulatory concerns surrounding the management of conflicts of interest. Separately, the founder had applied to the commission to register House the Homeless as a charity in 2010. We considered that the objects were not exclusively charitable for the public benefit, as it was set up to help landlords find tenants.

We decided in 2010 that the organisation was not capable of being registered as a charity. We therefore also needed to establish whether the objects were now charitable, and if so, should it be registered. The charity amended its objects and was accepted as an unregistered charity by HMRC in November 2012.

The action we took We opened an operational compliance case to consider the issues that had been raised with us. We contacted House the Homeless and asked for information to assess whether it is was a charity. We also asked the trustees for minutes of trustee meetings, information regarding how they managed conflicts of interest and the links between the charity and the estate agency. A meeting then took place with the trustees in September 2014.

House the Homeless Published: 31 October 2014
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What we found We found that House the Homeless is a charity in law, in that it is now set up for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit. As its annual income falls below £5,000 the charity is not currently required to register with the commission. House the Homeless operated from premises owned by the founder and were also partly used by the estate agency. The founder did not charge the charity rent but service charges were shared with the estate agency. The charity’s dedicated phone helpline was manned by an employee at the estate agency, who was also a trustee of the charity. The founder was still listed as ‘co-ordinator’ on the charity’s website, even though he had previously stepped down and had become a volunteer instead. The founder was an ‘Authorised Official’ for HMRC purposes and therefore acts for the charity in matters of tax and finance. We were told that the founder was the landlord of a beneficiary referred from the charity, but only as a short term measure and the rent was less than could be achieved through private rental. On The House estate agency did not charge fees to clients for referrals from the charity. Some trustees appeared to have little experience of running a charity or knowledge of charity law, and were unaware of the personal risks associated with being trustee of an unincorporated charity. They had not fully appreciated the conflict of interest in relation to the founder’s previous involvement with the charity. The trustees accepted this had led to external criticism and they had now taken steps to manage that conflict.

Impact of our involvement The charity has moved to a new office and has its own phone line manned by its volunteers. The founder’s name has been removed as co-ordinator on the charity website, and the trustees now fully appreciate that they have responsibility for managing all the volunteers including the founder. The trustees have confirmed they will take immediate steps to manage the charity’s affairs including its finances. The trustees confirmed they no longer referred any beneficiaries through the estate agency owned by the founder. As the charity had never provided accommodation, the trustees have decided to concentrate on providing other support to the homeless and decided to amend the charity’s object and name to better reflect the organisation and its activities for the future. The trustees will need to increase the charity’s income to cover its administrative costs. Where this rises above £5,000 per annum the trustees confirmed they will apply to register the charity. Some local media claimed we had an investigation open into the charity. This was not the case, and we made it clear to journalists when responding to their queries that we were assessing regulatory concerns. However, we acknowledge that we should have contacted the charity before reactively responding to these media queries. Finally, we instructed the trustees to report back to us on their progress, and provide accounts for the financial year ending 30 November 2014. Their report, which should be received by us by the end of March 2015, should set out the steps taken to improve the trustees’ knowledge of running a charity and charity law, the policies adopted and financial controls introduced.

House the Homeless Published: 31 October 2014
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Lessons for other trustees Often, the main focus of trustees, especially of small charities, is on the work the charity does with its beneficiaries. This is understandable. But charity trustees carry important legal duties which mean that they must balance their attention on the charity’s beneficiaries with an oversight of its governance and reputation. Guidance on these duties can be found on GOV.UK. Trustees should not leave all transactions and charity business in the hands of one individual - whether that person is a trustee, employee, volunteer, or other connected person. They must act reasonably and prudently in all matters and must always bear in mind that their prime concern is the charity’s interests. Trustees should read our guidance on conflicts of interest and decision making to ensure they understand these issues. Starting and running a charity is a big step - it requires hard work, patience and commitment. The commission has published new guidance on setting up a charity which it hopes will encourage people to think carefully before doing so. Many people set up charities without checking whether someone else is doing the same work and this can result in duplication and inefficiency.


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OUR HUMAN RIGHT TO LAMPOON AND CRITICISE POLITICIANS

THE HIGH COURT has ruled....People have a right to lampoon and criticise politicians and public officials under the Human Rights Act, the High Court has ruled.

We have the full High Court judgment, saved as a page on here. l

ampoon (lampoon) Pronunciation: /lamˈpuːn/ verb [with object] publicly criticize (someone or something) by using ridicule, irony, or sarcasm: the actor was lampooned by the press noun a speech or text lampooning someone or something: the magazine fired at God, Royalty, and politicians, using cartoons and lampoons.

Derivatives: lampooner noun lampoonery noun lampoonist noun Origin: mid 17th century: from French lampon, said to be from lampons 'let us drink' (used as a refrain), from lamper 'gulp down', nasalized form of laper 'to lap (liquid).

NUJ CODE OF CONDUCT

NUJ Code of Conduct

The NUJ's Code of Conduct has set out the main principles of British and Irish journalism since 1936.

The code is part of the rules and all journalists joining the union must sign that they will strive to adhere to the it.


Members of the National Union of Journalists are expected to abide by the following professional principles:

A journalist:

1 At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed

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8 Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge

9 Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person's age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation

10 Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed

11 A journalist shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about her/his welfare

12 Avoids plagiarism The NUJ believes a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code.

The NUJ will fully support any journalist disciplined for asserting her/his right to act according to the code

The NUJ logo is always a link to the home page.

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