We ‘could have been clearer’ in communication with whistleblower, regulator admits

The Charity Commission has admitted it could have been clearer in its communication with a whistleblower who claimed she had been misled about the direction of an investigation into a charity.

Lara Hall, who volunteered overseas with the then-named British Pakistani Christian Association and whose complaint prompted the commission to open a compliance case in 2020, said the regulator’s handling of the situation had “betrayed my trust”.

The commission denied misleading Hall but admitted that its communication with her during the case should have been clearer.

The commission opened a case into BPCA, now called British Asian Christians Association, after Hall told the watchdog she had been targeted while volunteering with the charity.

Later that year, Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, which is where the BACA is based, wrote to the commission saying it had been “dismissive” of concerns raised about the charity and urging it to take evidence from whistleblowers.

During the case, commission officials repeatedly told Hall that the charity was being wound up and would leave the charity register, according to evidence supplied to Third Sector.

In two separate updates provided during the case, a Charity Commission official told Hall “the charity is winding up” and that “this organisation will no longer be able to call itself a charity”.

On a third occasion, an official said Hall could take reassurance from “knowing that this charity will be off the register”.

But when the commission published its case findings in May, it confirmed that the charity had not been wound up. It continues to operate and remains on the charity register.

The regulator did issue the charity’s board with advice and an official warning, and criticised the charity over safeguarding failings and “confusion among trustees” about its aims

Hall told Third Sector she approached the regulator when she was “extremely vulnerable” and felt that at first “they ignored me”.

She said: “Over a lengthy period of time they made unequivocal promises and assurances to me, including to shut down the charity which had caused me so much harm and failed to safeguard me. 

“They betrayed my trust and confidence. It left me further traumatised.” 

Hall said she had not received any “private or public apology, which pains me greatly”.

The Charity Commission declined to comment on specific assurances made to Hall. 

A spokeswoman said: “Once an organisation is registered as a charity it can only be removed in very limited circumstances such as where it is no longer operating. It is not open to the commission to remove charitable status as a sanction. 

“As our case concluding statement makes clear, we took robust action in this case. We considered all powers available to us, and issued the trustees with an official warning.”

The commission added: “Our case handling has been examined in depth, and found to have been in accordance with our published regulatory and risk framework. 

“However, we have made clear that our communication to the external party in question could have been clearer.”

The BACA did not respond to a request for comment.

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