Big Lottery Fund to investigate claims it tried to gag a charity

The i newspaper reported allegations by Humanity Torbay that the grant-maker warned the charity it would not get a grant if it did not stop criticising universal credit

The Big Lottery Fund has said it is investigating "as a matter of urgency" allegations that it threatened to deny funding to a charity that had criticised the government’s introduction of universal credit.

The grant-maker rejected the idea that it would attempt to silence organisations it funds after accusations by the homelessness charity Humanity Torbay were reported in The i newspaper.

The charity, which the BLF has previously funded, alleged that a BLF official had explicitly warned the organisation that it would not receive a grant if it continued to criticise universal credit, the government’s new benefit scheme, the paper reported.

In a statement on the BLF website, the funder said it was "concerned to hear about recent events" relating Humanity Torbay.

"The Big Lottery Fund does not withhold funding from any organisation on the basis of what they say publicly on social issues," the statement said.

"We fund thousands of projects that are run by organisations who campaign on a range of topics or issues. We do not prevent any grant holder from voicing their views on an issue that is important to them, their organisation or community.

"We are looking into how this could have arisen as a matter of urgency."

The BLF operates independently of government in its individual funding decisions, but is given a set of directions by ministers to ensure its overall strategy is broadly in line with government policy.

The BLF award Humanity Torbay £10,000 in July 2017 to help the charity improve the space it uses to offer support to homeless people in Torbay.

According to The i, Ellie Waugh, chief executive of the charity, said she was visited by a BLF official earlier this month after the charity applied for a further grant of £130,000.

The charity has posted numerous videos to its Facebook page that show Waugh strongly condemning universal credit and blaming the policy for the plight of many of the charity’s beneficiaries. In one, she says there "are only two people to blame" for the level of demand for the charity’s services: "the Tory government and the people who voted for them".

Waugh alleges that the official told her that if the charity wanted any funding from the BLF it had "play the game" and stop making the videos, according to The i.

In a video made after the alleged conversation with the BLF official, Waugh says she had been "threatened" and told to keep her mouth shut about universal credit.

"I’ve been told that we won’t get any help, we won’t get any grants if we say anything," she said in the video.

The video appears on a GoFundMe page for the charity, which claims: "We spoke out against universal credit and in doing so forfeited any chance of a large lottery fund grant."

Waugh also implies in the video that the charity has separately been threatened with referral to the Charity Commission because of her comments.

The charity did not respond to Third Sector’s  request for comment before the lunchtime deadline.

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