Regulator finds 'no evidence of wrongdoing' at Alzheimer's Society

The Charity Commission has found “no evidence of wrongdoing” after examining the use of settlement agreements at the Alzheimer’s Society

The regulator has also concluded national newspaper claims that the charity had spent about £750,000 on non-disclosure agreements with staff in recent years “were not substantiated”. 

The regulator began looking into the charity after The Guardian reported in February that the society had spent about £750,000 on non-disclosure agreements in recent years, which the charity said at the time was incorrect

The article claimed that Jeremy Hughes, the outgoing chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society at the time, had displayed bullying behaviour towards staff. 

The suicide-prevention charity Samaritans subsequently withdrew an offer to make Hughes its chief executive. He left the Alzheimer's Society in March and has been succeeded by Kate Lee. 

The commission said at the time that it had reopened a complaint made in February 2018 about the charity’s handling of staff grievances, which the regulator admitted had not been properly handled at the time. 

But the commission will today publish the findings of its regulatory case, which concluded that the charity’s trustees “acted in line with their legal duties”. 

It found that media allegations about the sums of money paid out in settlements to former staff “were not substantiated by the evidence the commission saw”. 

The regulator also found no evidence that confidentiality clauses used by the charity would have prevented staff from reporting any whistleblowing, bullying, harassment or discrimination. 

The commission said it was satisfied that there were processes in place to ensure that settlement payments were properly scrutinised. 

Tracy Howarth, assistant director of casework at the Charity Commission, said: “Our case did not find evidence of wrongdoing at the Alzheimer’s Society or that its use of settlement agreements would stop people from whistleblowing. 

“This is crucial: the Alzheimer’s Society has an important role in ensuring the wellbeing of so many, so it is important that its working culture allows staff to raise concerns."

She said the commission also welcomed steps taken by the charity to “further strengthen procedures at the society and to strengthen the charity’s internal culture”.

The commission said the charity had updated its policy on settlement agreements, which included new provisions stating explicitly that settlement agreements and confidentiality clauses could not be used to hide improper behaviour or prevent lawful disclosures.

The charity said it could not reveal the amount it had spent on settlement agreements in recent years because they were confidential, but the figure was only a fraction of the £750,000 that was alleged in The Guardian's article. 

It pointed out that settlement agreements were used for a variety of reasons including role changes or concerns under Tupe transfer rules, and that only a small number had anything to do with any kind of grievance. 

Stephen Hill, chair of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We welcome the conclusion of the Charity Commission’s regulatory case, which found no evidence of wrongdoing by the society, including our rare use of settlement agreements over the past five years, and found that the figure published in the complaint was incorrect and unsubstantiated."

He said the case had been an “opportunity for some reflection for us” and, as well as updating its policy on settlement agreements, the charity had instigated an independent review of our procedures for raising concerns to ensure it was best practice.

He said the charity would also talk further in its next annual report about how it used settlements, which he said the charity hoped would “continue to demonstrate our absolute commitment to accountability and transparency”. 

Hill said: “We are glad this decision allows us all to continue focusing on delivering help and support at this difficult and challenging time, when it has never been needed more.”

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