The trustees of a legacy fund set up to benefit the veterinary charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals have been told to review their governance after poor management allegedly cost the fund more than £66,000.
Dwyer, who died in 1956, bequeathed both capital and future income from her estate to the PDSA, and requested the funds be used to maintain her mother’s grave.
In 2011, a solicitor for the PDSA contacted the commission expressing several concerns over the unregistered charitable trust’s governance. The commission then noted that the trust had an annual income of more than £5,000 and therefore should have been registered with it. However, the commission did not receive a proper response to several letters sent to the trustees advising them of this, the report says.
When they did reply, the trustees said that the trust’s principal purpose was grave maintenance and that they did not believe the trust was charitable.
The commission disagreed that this was its primary purpose, noting in the report that the grave "is a small ordinary plot, not a tomb or a mausoleum" and that the bequest was "a substantial gift comprising of several properties and a significant amount".
The commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity in May 2012. Two months later, the commission received an application for registration from the trustees, who had sought legal advice.
During the inquiry, the commission saw correspondence between the trust and the PDSA going back to 1999. A 2011 letter from the PDSA to the charity claimed that unauthorised fees deducted between 1994 and 2010, insurance premiums not recovered from tenants, losses in relations to mortgages and losses after the trust failed to review rent provisions on its properties had cost the trust a total of £66,400.
The report says: "The trustees’ response to the inquiry was that they do not consider themselves experts in trust law nor do they wish to continue as trustees of the charity." The report says that if this was the case, they could have taken steps to find new trustees or to liquidate the trust.
The report criticises the trustees for not attempting to resolve the dispute with the PDSA and for their unresponsiveness to the commission.
In January this year, the commission issued a legal order to the trustees of the Amy Marion Dwyer Will Trust "to carry out a review of the governance arrangements for the charity, setting out what actions they intend to take over the next 12 months".
In March, the charity wrote to the commission saying it had appointed an individual to deal with trust administration, while also apologising for the "the lack of response and communication over the years". The charity said that it did not believe any "losses or disadvantages to the charity beneficiaries have taken place" – which, the report says, is contested by the PDSA, pointing to the legal bills incurred in resolving the situation.
The Amy Marion Dwyer Will Trust has until 20 August to comply with the Charity Commission’s order.