Redbridge charity trustees disqualified after ‘serious misconduct’ and using residents’ identities for their own gain
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Two Redbridge charity founders have been disqualified after “hijacking” residents’ identities and using their organisation as a “vehicle for fraudulent state benefit claims”.
Families for Survival and Save the Age Ltd were respectively set up to provide support to disabled people and orphaned children, and relieve the elderly of poverty, sickness and social inclusion.
However a joint agency investigation and a Charity Commission inquiry found limited evidence of charitable activity being carried out by either organisation.
The Charity Commission had been monitoring Families for Survival since February 2014 after concerns were raised about the charity’s fundraising practices. Further probes established that it was linked to Save the Age through shared founding trustees and a shared correspondence address.
The Charity Commission supported investigations by the police, Redbridge Council and the Department for Work and Pensions into suspected housing benefit and social security benefit fraud, which led to two trustees being arrested in May 2015.
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Further concerns about potential unauthorised trustee payments and a lack of evidence of charitable expenditure led to an inquiry being opened and their bank accounts were frozen.
The investigation identified that a number of the names listed as trustees had been “hijacked” from individuals who did not have any connection with the charities.
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It was also discovered that the founders were benefiting financially by self-dealing instructions to their accountants.
Up to £14,000 in unauthorised private benefit was paid to the trustees, and annual accounts were submitted containing false information.
Both sets of accounts were reviewed by the same accounting company, however, one of the independent examiners signing off accounts was untraceable and the other was, in fact, an alias for one of the founding trustees.
The inquiry also brought to light that there was no evidence that charity work was being undertaken at nursing homes by the organisation and it was not benefiting the public.
The Charity Commission concluded that there had been serious misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of both charities.
As well as using the charities to facilitate unlawful activity, the individuals failed in their fundamental duties and responsibilities as charity trustees.
Following dissolution, the charities have now both been removed from the Register of Charities.
Redbridge Council also brought charges against the pair banning them from serving as a trustee of any charity.
Harvey Grenville, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “This case highlights a cynical abuse of trusteeship by two individuals who used the good name of charity to further unlawful personal motives.
“They have proven themselves wholly unfit to serve as trustees. “Close co-operation between different agencies has been critical to the outcome of this case. Our intervention has upheld key principles of charity law and helped criminal proceedings in bringing these individuals to justice.”