By Wende Hubbard, Managing Partner
The Charity Commission has released its report regarding the enquiry into the Hope House School charity.
Three trustees from Hope House School will not be able to act as charity trustees for at least eight years – after the Charity Commission secured voluntary undertakings from all three.
Hope House School is a charity-run independent school, catering for around 25 pupils with special educational needs. The statutory enquiry opened in October 2017 and the regulator’s action follows investigations into the trustee’s misconduct and/or mismanagement of the charity.
There are many lessons for charity trustees to observe from this report and the Charity Commission’s summary provides a useful reminder of some of the key responsibilities that trustees of charity face.
The prohibition of the charity’s trustees from acting as trustees elsewhere for a period of up to 10 years is a salient reminder that trustees are personally liable for both their own and their charity’s failings.
Whether you are considering taking on a trusteeship or if you currently hold such a position, you should be confident that the following matters are dealt with robustly and appropriately within your organisation.
Here are the five key lessons for trustees to take away from the enquiry into Hope House School:
Trustees must use charity funds and assets in furtherance of the charity’s purposes
This means ensuring the charity funds are used in accordance with the terms of the charity’s governing document and in accordance with the requirements of any contractual obligations.
For instance, in the case of this school the trustees failed to meet their Ofsted requirements.
Trustees must ensure that the charity has adequate financial and administrative controls in place, and that the funds of the charity are applied for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up
Trustees are responsible equally for the overall management and administration of the charity.
They should ensure that sufficient information is reported back at trustee meetings to satisfy themselves that the financial and administrative controls are being properly implemented.
If the trustees delegate supervision of financial arrangements to one or a small number of trustees or employees, they need to ensure that there are arrangements in place for proper reporting back to the whole trustee body.
In the case of this enquiry into Hope House School, the trustee Board were found to be operating ineffectively in this respect because, amongst other instances, whilst they had put in place a control whereby cheques over a certain limit were required to be signed by two trustees, an individual continued to make payments in excess of the limit using themselves as a sole signatory.
Trustees have a legal duty to act in their charity’s best interests when making decisions as a trustee
If there is a decision to be made where a trustee has a personal or other interest, this is a conflict of interest, and a trustee won’t be able to comply with their duty unless following appropriate steps to remove themselves from the decision making process, or implementing other suitable safeguards to demonstrate that they have gained no personal benefit.
A ‘personal benefit’ means a benefit that someone receives from a charity. That ‘someone’ might be an individual or an organisation. Financial benefits might be in the form of cash, grants or other payments.
Non-financial benefits or payments in kind might be benefits in the form of goods or services rather than in cash, for example the provision of free accommodation, meals or transport.
The law states that trustees cannot receive any benefit from their charity including in return for any service they provide to it, unless they have legal authority to do so.
Trustees should be aware of and seek appropriate advice when necessary, on matters of employment legislation relating to volunteers to ensure their charity is not at risk of creating additional employment and taxation issues.
Employment rights can accrue in certain situations, particularly where there has been an extensive period of voluntary work undertaken by an individual.
Remember, that whilst volunteers are not usually covered by employment legislation they do still have to be covered by Health & Safety and Data Protection regulations.
Charity trustees are responsible for the beneficiaries of the charity
Trustees must ensure that there are policies, processes and procedures in place to adequately ensure the safety, welfare and well-being of their charity’s beneficiaries.
Charity trustees should take steps to regularly review, and if necessary, update any policies, processes and procedures.
How we can help?
Burgis & Bullock’s expert charities and not-for-profit team can advise on all aspects of acting as a charity trustee.