- This article has been clarified. See final paragraph for details.
A charity has accused the Charity Commission of applying "undue scrutiny" to Muslim charities after the regulator opened its second inquiry into the organisation in five years.
The commission announced today that it had opened an inquiry into the international development charity Human Aid UK after a representative of the charity was stopped at Heathrow airport carrying a large amount of cash on their way to Gaza.
The commission’s previous inquiry, which opened in 2014 and closed in 2017, concluded that although there was no evidence Human Aid had misapplied funds, there was little sign that the charity was monitoring its use of funds properly.
The latest inquiry will look into trustees’ management and administration of the charity and its monitoring of overseas expenditure, according to a commission statement published today,
A statement from the charity said the commission’s actions were "in the context of a larger pattern of harassment of Muslim Charities at UK borders" and, although trustees were complying with the commission, they were also "taking legal advice on challenging this undue scrutiny".
The charity does not list the promotion of Islam in its charitable objects, but the charity’s website names a number of Islamic principles as being "the values which drive us".
The charity said trustees were concerned the Border Force stop had "suddenly escalated" into a statutory inquiry.
A spokesman told Third Sector that the previous statutory inquiry had "resulted in a significant financial loss to the charity and disrupted our life-saving services and provisions", despite finding no misapplication of funds.
"We also note that the Charity Commission’s statutory enquiry into Oxfam was opened and closed within 16 months despite involving serious allegations of years of child sexual exploitation by its staff and volunteers," said the spokesman. "The inquiry issued only a warning about its conduct.
"This stands in stark contrast to the last statutory enquiry launched into HAUK, which took almost three years to publish. Questions over monitoring related to that inquiry remain open until today.
"Many Muslim charities have complained about the length of time inquiries have taken in comparison with other charities."
The charity’s chair, Nur Choudhury, told Third Sector: "We regularly engage with Muslim charities and have yet to come across a single Muslim charity that hasn’t had undue intervention from the Charity Commission."
He pointed to a 2014 report by the think tank Claystones, which found that Muslim charities were disproportionately represented among those that were investigated by the commission.
"Excessive use of the powers of the Charity Commission, symptomatic of the disproportionate harassment Muslim charities face, has led to the unnecessary disruption of our life-saving work," Choudhury said.
He added that he believed counter-terrorism police had contacted the commission directly after the Human Aid representative was stopped at Heathrow and there was "some coordination taking place".
Choudhury said: "The Charity Commission does important work in ensuring public funds are used for charitable purposes and we continue to cooperate with it.
"It is there to enable and empower charities. It should not, however, become a tool for intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism police to conduct investigation under the radar exploiting the Charity Commission's extensive powers."
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "We assess all concerns about charities against a clear regulatory and risk framework. Where those assessments give rise to further concerns, we look into them in line with our usual processes. We strongly reject any suggestion of bias in our investigative work. We publish transparency data about our inquiry work and are clear that our investigations do not focus on any specific religious classification. Where issues persist or resurface in a particular charity, it is right that we monitor these or tackle them as necessary."
- This article was amended to clarify that Human Aid UK believes the commission inquiry had been opened in the context of a larger pattern of harassment of Muslim charities at UK borders.