Governance and transparency concerns dominate complaints to Northern Irish commission

Frances McCandless, chief of the CCNI, says charities often do not know how to work in transparent ways

Frances McCandless
Frances McCandless

Poor governance and a lack of transparency are the main themes of the first 100 complaints received by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, according to the regulator.

The CCNI this month received its hundredth complaint and has today published a report, One Hundred Lessons to be Learned, about its work since it began to regulate charities in February 2011.

The report outlines four key themes of the 100 complaints: poor governance, a lack of transparency, poor financial control and the damage caused by disputes. A CCNI spokeswoman told Third Sector complaints about governance and transparency were the most common of these.

The spokeswoman said she was unable to provide details of how many complaints related to each of the issues because information "was not documented in this way". She said the regulator would consider collecting this information in future.

The report says 86 of the 100 complaints came from members of the public and 14 came from "other sources, including government agencies such as HMRC". It says 74 of the 100 cases have been closed, and 26 are ongoing.

The report does not supply figures on how many of the complaints were unfounded or required action by the regulator, although the CCNI has not yet opened any statutory investigations. The spokeswoman said it could not rule out doing so for some of the 26 ongoing cases.

The report says failings in trusteeship or governance often involve "inadequate record-keeping, poor management of conflicts of interest, failures to identify and manage situations where trustees are benefiting inappropriately from charities and failures to control the activities of dominant individuals".

It says that in one case the regulator discovered that a charity had carried out public collections but "did not record this income on even the simplest of balance sheets". It says all financial control at the charity was "vested solely in a single charity trustee".

The report says the regulator offered advice and guidance to the trustee, who "admitted that the administration of the charity had become difficult" and agreed to follow the guidance.

"There is no doubt that, in the future, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will conduct regulatory and statutory investigations using the most stringent of our powers," the report says.

Frances McCandless, chief executive of the CCNI, said in a statement: "The vast majority of charities do try to get it right, but often don’t know how to work in a way that is transparent and that inspires public confidence. The report helps them to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls."

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