Mental health charity dissolved in wake of critical Charity Commission report

The regulator's operational compliance case found the governance of Bufferzone, based in Cornwall, was 'wholly inadequate'

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

A Cornish mental health and disability advocacy charity has been dissolved after the Charity Commission found the trustees’ supervision and management of the charity "wholly inadequate".

Bufferzone, which was removed from the register two weeks ago, provided an advocacy and outreach service for people with mental health problems and disabilities.

Tony Lea, the charity’s founder, told Third Sector the complaints made against it that triggered the investigation were unfounded, and it has begun providing the same services through a non-charitable limited company.

The commission opened an operational compliance case after it received a number of complaints "alleging that vulnerable service users had felt threatened and intimidated by the charity", including being pressurised to pay "voluntary fees" in return for the charity’s help, says the commission’s report on the charity, published today.

It says the regulator found that "the trustees’ supervision and management of the charity was wholly inadequate", with "no written safeguarding policies or procedures" and one trustee who was "inherently conflicted" through being related to a volunteer.

It also appeared to have no financial controls in place, and "was not able to provide us with bank statements or cheque book counterfoils", the report says.

The trustees were told to either recognise their governance and management responsibilities, or dissolve the charity. The latter option, which was chosen, had been proposed by the trustees themselves at a meeting with the commission, the report says.

The report says that the commission decided against taking further action against the trustees to recover the charity’s remaining assets, because they were minimal and further action would not be proportionate.

Lea said the allegations made by the commission in its report were "complete and utter lies" and slanderous. He said the charity did have procedures documented and had "impeccable" paper accounts in place, which had been signed off by a qualified tax inspector.

Lea said that the work done by the charity would be carried out by his new business, Benefit Resolutions, which was incorporated in November last year.

"The commission refused to interview me and, as far as I’m concerned, broke every rule in the book," he said. "We decided to close it because I don’t need jumped-up people coming in calling me a thief or a criminal.

"They’ve absolutely hurt the people we were helping and the lives of some of them have been an absolute nightmare because they haven’t been able to get hold of me."

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