The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into a number of concerns, including potential private benefit, at a Bristol charity that works with homeless refugees.
Bristol Sheltered Accommodation & Support registered with the commission in 2010 with the objects of relieving poverty and hardship among homeless refugees in the city, and provides hostel accommodation and other support to its beneficiaries, including meals.
Concerns about the charity were first raised by Bristol City Council and another unnamed organisation in January, after which the regulator carried out its own "preliminary analysis", a commission statement said today.
"The regulator is investigating potential regulatory concerns identified, including poor financial controls at the charity, the management of conflicts of interest and related party transactions leading to potential significant private benefit," it said.
The charity had an income of £983,701 in the year to 31 March 2014, down from slightly more than £1m the year before, its accounts show. Its income had been a little less than £500,000 in each of the two previous years.
The accounts for the year to March 2014 show that Sally Zamparelli, one of the charity’s seven trustees during the year, was paid £34,078 in her capacity as the charity’s manager and administrator. But the accounts also show that the trustees had "sought, and obtained, express permission from the Charity Commission for payments made".
Zamparelli’s husband Michelle was appointed as a trustee on 4 April 2014, having received £17,973 for services as a property manager in the prior financial year. "The trustees are in the process of seeking permission from the Charity Commission for an ongoing remuneration arrangement, given Mr Zamparelli's trustee appointment in the 2015 financial year," according to the charity’s annual accounts.
Another trustee, Ian Macdonald, was paid £3,000 "in relation to ongoing dealings with Bristol City Council on the charity's behalf", and Marlene Risdale, also a trustee, received payments of £1,700 for the supply of second-hand furniture to the charity, the accounts show.
The investigation was opened on 1 April this year. The announcement was delayed until today because of the commission’s decision not to announce new inquiries during the pre-election period, during which public bodies are not allowed to say anything that might appear to constitute electoral support.
"The regulator stresses that opening an inquiry is not in itself a finding of wrongdoing," the commission statement said. "The purpose of an inquiry is to examine issues in detail and investigate and establish the facts."
Third Sector asked the charity for a comment but was told no one who could do so was available.