Alzheimer's Society denies it has spent £750k on non-disclosure agreements

The Guardian newspaper made the allegation in a report that focused on alleged bullying behaviour by the outgoing chief executive Jeremy Hughes

(Photograph: Jonathan Wakelin/Alamy)
(Photograph: Jonathan Wakelin/Alamy)

The Alzheimer’s Society has “strongly refuted” newspaper claims that it has spent £750,000 in recent years on non-disclosure agreements with staff.

But the Charity Commission has reopened a complaint against the charity from two years ago about the charity’s handling of staff grievances that the regulator failed to follow up at the time.

The Guardian newspaper claimed that Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, had allegedly displayed bullying behaviour towards staff.

The charity said it had a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and discrimination and a robust internal complaints procedure.

Hughes will be leaving the charity in April to become chief executive of the suicide-prevention charity Samaritans in May.

The newspaper’s report, which it says is based on a whistleblower complaint, also claims the charity spent £750,000 on non-disclosure agreements for staff.

In a statement, the charity rejected the figure reported in The Guardian, but accepted it had used non-disclosure agreements in the past for “legitimate reasons”.

Corinne Mills, director of people and organisational development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We strongly refute the figure of £750,000 quoted for settlements. We have used settlement agreements only for legitimate reasons and only where other options for resolution have been explored.

“We haven’t used any settlement agreement to stop anyone reporting any whistleblowing, harassment or discrimination complaints.”

Mills said the charity regularly reviewed its complaints-handling processes and its recent annual engagement survey showed that 91 per cent of staff and volunteers were proud to work for the organisation.

The Charity Commission said it received a complaint in February 2018 about how the Alzheimer’s Society was handling staff grievances, including concerns about how the board was overseeing decisions.

But the commission failed to investigate the complaint at the time and said in a statement that it ought to have followed up on the issues raised.

Helen Earner, director of operations at the Charity Commission, said in a statement today: “While this was at a time when the volume of cases coming into us was high, nevertheless we should have followed up on the complaint, and that did not happen.

“We have since overhauled our handling of whistleblowing reports. Regardless of the nature or seriousness of concerns raised, we follow up each whistleblowing report with a phone call to the complainant.

“We acknowledge that in failing to follow up on the complaint at the time, we did not meet the high standards we set ourselves and which the public rightly expect. We are now looking into the matter.”

Mills said the charity was unaware of the 2018 complaint until the newspaper contacted the charity in advance of publishing its story.

“We were not aware of the complaint made to the Charity Commission until we were contacted by The Guardian and we have never been contacted by the Charity Commission in relation to this complaint,” Mills said.

“We are following this up directly with the Charity Commission because we take these allegations very seriously and have zero tolerance of bullying and discrimination.

“We have a well-established and robust internal complaints procedure and whistleblowing policy. All complaints are thoroughly investigated to support and protect employees and volunteers who raise concerns, including providing independent, open access to our board of trustees and chair.”

An internal survey last year found that 31 per cent of staff at the Alzheimer’s Society had a negative view of the charity’s leadership team, and an anonymous Twitter account, which has since been deleted, made serious criticisms of the charity’s management.

Last year, Acevo and the Centre for Mental Health published a report on bullying in the charity sector called In Plain Sight, in which it called for the commission to clarify its role and response to complaints of bullying.

In a statement, Acevo said it was told that the commission would take action to address the issues raised in the report, but this had not yet taken place.

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