Watchdog makes first warning of its kind to breast cancer charity

14 Aug 17

The Charity Commission has taken action against a breast cancer charity following concerns about its financial management and governance.

An official warning, under Section 75A of the Charities Act, was issued to the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline in July. This is the first time it has used these powers.

Detailed scrutiny by the watchdog of the charity’s accounts revealed a number of concerns about financial management and sustainability, in particular a lack of appropriate financial controls and a heavy reliance on loans.

It also found payments to the chair of trustees, founder Wendy Watson, in breach of a charity trustee’s legal duty.

“The trustee in receipt of payment was the only authorised signatory on the charity’s bank account and so authorising payments to themselves,” the commission stated in its 3 July report.

“The trustees were failing to comply with their responsibility to manage and administer the charity.

"They were not meeting regularly to make collective decisions about how the charity should be run to further its objects. The chair made decisions following discussions with individual trustees. No records were kept of those discussions.”

While the charity’s trustees had been given an opportunity to resolve the governance issues, a follow-up inspection in October 2016 revealed that only limited progress had been made.

Therefore “the commission concluded it was appropriate and proportionate to issue to the charity with a official warning to promote compliance”.

A statement from Watson’s lawyers, published by the BBC, said she had been paid “in error” and that neither she nor the charity had realised the payments were inappropriate until they were informed by the Charity Commission.

At this point “Ms Watson immediately resigned as a trustee and continued to work without payment”.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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