The vice chair of a local YMCA fears his organisation and others will face legal action from their pension plan trustee if it wins its case against Hirwaun YMCA in Wales.
The YMCA Pension Plan Trustee, which runs the pension plan for UK YMCAs, is attempting to hold Colin Shaw, chair of Hirwaun YMCA, personally liable for the £18,200 it says Hirwaun owes to the plan. The case will go to court on 4 June.
Wes Jefferies, vice chair of Hastings & Rother YMCA, said he was worried that his organisation would be one of the next to face legal action from the pension plan trustee.
"A lot of charities are in trouble," said Jefferies. "We expect that the trustee will use Hirwaun as a test case, and if it succeeds there it will pursue others."
He said that the charities facing the most difficulty, including his own and Hirwaun, were the ones where the last employees in the pension scheme had retired, meaning that the charities had suddenly had to make up any shortfall in their contributions.
He said these debts could exceed all a YMCA's previous contributions put together, and could be enough to bankrupt individual charities.
"One guy at another YMCA is still working, because he's been told if he takes his pension it will trigger a huge debt that would shut down his organisation," said Jefferies, although he declined to name the YMCA concerned.
John Quarrell, a pensions lawyer representing several YMCAs, including Hirwaun and Hastings & Rother, said he believed many local charities had not received clear advice about their pension liabilities.
"If many of these trustees had known what liabilities they were personally taking on, they would have run a mile," he said.
He said YMCAs had often found themselves paying for times when their employees worked at charities other than their own because of the system used by the trustee to calculate liabilities.
Paul Smillie, company secretary for the PPT, said each YMCA's case was different, but all charities would have to pay what they owed.
"Charities agreed how liabilities would be allocated in 2007," he said.