2009: the year in governance

In the second of a series of articles reviewing the past 12 months, we round up the year's key news stories relating to charity governance

St Anselm's School, Derbyshire: insufficient public benefit
St Anselm's School, Derbyshire: insufficient public benefit

The results of the Charity Commission's first public benefit assessment exercise were announced in July. Of the five fee-charging schools, four religious charities and three care homes assessed, two schools and one care home were deemed not to be providing sufficient benefit because they did not do enough to mitigate their high fees. Another care home was deemed to be operating outside its charitable objects.

Earlier this month, the commission announced that it would look next at four arts charities. Later next year it will look into charities for the advancement of health and those working in sports or recreation.

In Scotland, the remedial plans submitted by the four schools that failed the Scottish charity test were deemed acceptable by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. The schools have until October 2011 to implement them.

The Charity Commission published significantly fewer inquiry reports this year than in 2008. Its long anticipated inquiry into Palestinian relief charity Interpal in February found insufficient evidence to back up claims made in a BBC documentary that the charity had funded organisations involved in terrorism. However, Andrew Hind, chief executive of the commission, criticised Interpal's claims that it that been fully vindicated by the report, which directed the trustees to do a number of things.

In August, the commission decided not to try to recover more than £600,000 that the chair of two community charities in London had failed to hand over to the organisations.

The commission's investigation found that the grants from the London Borough of Hackney had been paid into the personal account of Dr Adu Aezick Seray-Wurie instead of those of the African Development Agencies and the Hackney African Organisation. The commission disqualified Seray-Wurie as a trustee but decided that legal action against him would not be in the public interest because he had already spent the money. The police also declined to take any action. 

The first-ever appeal to the charity tribunal was unsuccessful. Catholic adoption agency Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) wanted to exclude same-sex parents from using its services, but the tribunal decided in June that the commission had been right to deny the charity permission to change its objects accordingly.

But appellants have been more successful in two subsequent cases, involving the Sivayogam Hindu temple in London and the Kidd Legacy land in Dartford.

The perils of legacy disputes were demonstrated in October when a £2m legacy to the RSPCA was overturned in the High Court. Christine Gill successfully argued that her late father had bullied his wife into making certain provisions in her will. The RSPCA came in for heavy criticism on the internet for defending its claim, but the charity is determined to appeal.



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