Dame Margaret Hodge has warned the Charity Commission that it might be responsible for a “complete dereliction of duty” after a whistleblower said serious complaints against a Christian charity were not being properly investigated.
The Labour MP for Barking has written to Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the regulator, asking for a “full and thorough” explanation for why the regulator has allegedly refused to take evidence from a complainant as part of an ongoing investigation into the British Pakistani Christian Association.
The letter says a complainant has made serious allegations against the charity, but case workers at the regulator have been “dismissive” of the individual’s claims and slow to react.
Hodge says the complainant had offered to be interviewed or to submit video testimonies, but these suggestions were ignored by the commission.
It says the complainant was told by the regulator’s case worker that it needed to interview only the trustees of the charity about the allegations, despite concerns that board members might have conflicts of interest in the case.
The letter says the case “calls into question both the regulatory capability of the commission and its capacity to safeguard those that turn to your organisation in a time of need”.
It says that, according to the complainant, the regulator’s case workers have failed to thoroughly investigate the case and have been “completely inaccessible” to the individual.
“These are very serious allegations and, if true, would constitute a complete dereliction of duty from the Charity Commission,” says Hodge.
“I hope that you can give me a full and thorough explanation for the concerns that I have raised in this letter.”
The complainant told Third Sector that the commission refused to take evidence from them or other people who had also raised concerns about the charity.
“The commission has repeatedly said that it does not need any documentation from us and does not need to talk to us,” the complainant said.
The person said this was despite case workers being offered emails and phone messages that would give them better insight into the case.
The complainant claimed that case workers said they needed to talk only to the charity’s trustees, whom the complainant alleges are not neutral.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman confirmed that the regulator had an ongoing regulatory compliance case into the BPCA to examine serious allegations about safeguarding and the wider governance and management of the charity by its trustees
“A charity should be a safe and trusted environment, and it is an essential duty for trustees to take reasonable steps to safeguard beneficiaries and to protect them from abuse and mistreatment of any kind,” she said.
“We therefore take any allegations about failures to safeguard charity beneficiaries and those who come into contact with the charity very seriously.”
Additional information supplied by the commission showed the regulator had opened a case in July 2019 and has subsequently identified and received evidence about wider governance concerns at the charity.
The regulator said a case manager in the commission’s Regulatory Compliance team had been in contact with the complainant throughout the case, and was considering evidence.
While the commission said it was unable to comment on details, it wanted to assure parties they were dealing with the case “with all due seriousness”, and had been in contact with the Metropolitan Police and National Crime Agency. The regulator added it was responding directly to the concerns raised by Hodge.
The commission promised to work to improve the experience of whistleblowers in the wake of the Oxfam safeguarding scandal.
The charity’s former head of global safeguarding, Helen Evans, had accused the regulator of failing to discuss her concerns about the charity, a claim that was denied by the commission.
Alexia Pepper de Caires, co-founder of the whistleblower advocacy group NGO Safe Space, last year told Third Sector that she felt she was not being properly listened to when she tried to inform the regulator about concerns she had while working at Save the Children UK.
Last summer, the commission opened a dedicated telephone service, operated by the whistleblowing charity Protect, which provides confidential advice to whistleblowers to help them decide how to raise serious concerns about charities.
Hodge was chair of the Public Accounts Committee in 2013 when it published its highly critical report on the Charity Commission's handling of the Cup Trust tax-avoidance case.
In an emailed comment, a spokesperson from the BPCA told Third Sector: "Perhaps you should contact Fawkner Police who dropped the police investigation without even a formal interview of Mr Chowdhry, after he sent evidence to them of his own volition."
– This article was updated on 06 April to include additional background information from the Charity Commission, and a comment from the BPCA.