Eleven charities probed in city

Eleven local charities have been probed by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.
Eleven local charities have been probed by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland charity watchdog has received eleven complaints about Londonderry charities since the commencement of investigatory powers in 2011, the Sentinel has learned.

Reports to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) ranged from concern over the award of contracts, concern in relation to possible private benefit and conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency.

There were also concerns relating to poor communications with stakeholders, concerns that financial controls were inadequate, concerns over possible mismanagement and concerns over the application of funds received by various city headquartered charities.

Three CCNI investigations are still ongoing and the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) are currently pursuing a criminal case against one local charity.

Eight further investigations have been closed by CCNI, with no action having been taken in some cases.

Details of the investigations were revealed to the Sentinel in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

The CCNI advised that it couldn’t release the names of the charities in question because it would constitute a ‘breach of confidence’ under Section 41 of the FoI Act.

It did, however, release the name of one charity, which was investigated following an enquiry commencing on May 5, 2012.

The CCNI told the Sentinel: “You will note that the name of one charity has not been redacted.

“As this concern was internally generated by the Commission, rather than supplied by an external individual or organisation, it is not considered to have the necessary quality of confidence to be exempt under section 41.”

The CCNI says the charity in question was the Changaro Trust, which, according to a ‘social media’ website profile, was set up in 2007 to raise funds for a refuge in Kenya.

The Commission says there was “concern in relation to finances of charity and possible mis-management.”

The CCNI ultimately “issued self-regulatory advice to assist charity” and the enquiry into the Changaro Trust closed on October 23 last year.

Meanwhile, two of the three ongoing investigations revealed to the Sentinel were initiated this year.

For example, on February 17, 2014, “concern over the award of contracts” was reported in relation to one local charity.

That investigation is currently in the initial assessment stage with the assessment said to be ongoing.

And on March 3, 2014, “concern in relation to possible private benefit and lack of transparency within [an] organisation” was reported in relation to another Londonderry charity.

According to the CCNI it is “working with acting trustees to resolve historical governance and administration of charity.”

But the third live investigation goes back a few years. Back on June 23, 2011, “concern in relation to possible private benefit/conflict of interest” was reported.

The CCNI “liaised with PSNI and the PPS are currently pursuing a criminal case” in relation to that charity.

Two further investigations initiated this year have already been closed.

On March 10, 2014, “concern in relation to application of funds received” was reported against one body.

Information was issued to a funding body as the “allegation [related] to their project.”

The CCNI closed the case on April 16, 2014, as it had been taken on by the unnamed funding body in question.

And on May 1, 2014, “concern in relation to finances” of another charity was reported.

An independent investigation was undertaken and no weaknesses were identified in financial controls. The case was closed on May 21.

In several of the closed cases - five out of eight, in fact - no action was taken whatsoever by the regulator, as concernees had failed to back up their complaints with hard evidence.

This was the case in relation to four investigations into local charities between December 2011 and February 2012.

Complainants worried about “inadequate financial controls,” “possible private benefit,” and in two cases the “finances of charities” but couldn’t back up their complaints with proof.

Reviews were conducted into these cases before the CCNI closed them all.