Charity Commission closes six-year case into the RSPCA

The regulator says the governance reforms introduced by the animal charity go further than needed to address its concerns

The Charity Commission has said it is satisfied with governance changes put in place by the RSPCA and closed its long-running scrutiny of the charity. 

The regulator began looking into the charity in 2014 after serious concerns were identified, including frequent changes in its leadership and a sustained reliance on trustees acting as interim chief executives, the commission said. 

The regulator said the “unusual practice” went on for too long, “risking public confidence in an important national institution

The commission handed an official warning to the charity in 2018, after concluding the charity’s trustees mismanaged the process of agreeing a large pay-off to Michael Ward, its former acting chief executive. 

The commission said it continued to have concerns about the charity’s progress in reforming its governance, including the large size of its trustee body, referred to as its council, which included 25 people; the long terms of office of its trustees; and what the regulator called “excessive involvement of council members in day-to-day issues usually the responsibility of the executive and staff”. 

The regulator said it told the charity to take immediate steps to rectify the problems, which was followed by the RSPCA announcing an overhaul of its governance arrangements. 

The commission has now said that the constitutional changes put forward by the charity, which were adopted last year, have gone beyond answering its concerns. These include the reduction of the trustee body to 12 people. 

“The commission subsequently monitored the implementation of these changes and is now satisfied that the charity has acted on its regulatory advice and used this as an opportunity to make significant changes to its leadership and governance,” the regulator said. 

“The RSPCA’s relationship with the commission has now moved to a regular footing.

“This means the charity’s structures are considered improved and able to deal with new issues should they arise.”

René Olivieri, chair of the RSPCA, said: “We welcome this positive announcement by the Charity Commission and it’s heartening to see we have gone further than its recommendations.

“This achievement is thanks to all those who have served on the council, both currently and previously. They made brave, bold decisions to strengthen and modernise the RSPCA’s governance.

“We have worked hard to create a smaller, experienced and focused board of trustees in line with other major charities and the Charity Governance Code, and to bed in these changes at a time when the charity was also rescuing the animals most in need during a global pandemic.”

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