Neal Green responds to a trustee embarrassed to ask about who pays for the cost of foreign visits.
I have recently joined the board of an international charity registered in England. We have a number of projects in eight different parts of the world. I have been told that all trustees are expected to visit one project every other year. As I am new, I feel embarrassed to ask about who pays the cost of these visits and no one has volunteered any information. Most of the other trustees seem to be quite well-off and are probably happy to pay the costs themselves but money isn't easy for my wife and me. Can you give me some guidance?
* If a trustee visits a project abroad can the trustee's airfare be paid for by the charity? What is the position about meals and hotel accommodation?
* What happens if I want to extend my visit with a few days holiday before I return?
* My son has said he will pay my wife's airfare to give her a well deserved holiday. If she shares my room in the hotel, we will only have to pay for her meals which will be quite cheap in a developing country. Is it alright for her to share my hotel room if the charity is paying for the room?
* Another trustee has been asked to run training sessions when she visits a project. Can she be paid for running these training sessions? Do regulations change under the new Charities Act? If they do, how do they change and when?
A new trustee with limited financial means
Trustees are allowed to reclaim reasonable expenses incurred in carrying out their duties. Our guidance Payment of Trustees (CC11) explains what kinds of expenses are permitted, and emphasises that expenses are not payment, but refunds of costs which a trustee has had to meet in order to carry out trustee duties. Some trustee boards boast that their members never claim expenses, but this can be counterproductive if some people then cannot afford to become trustees.
* If the charity has decided that it is necessary for you to visit a project in another country, you should be able to reclaim all reasonable expenses in connection with the visit. Obviously, you should try to exercise reasonable economy.
* If you extend the trip to include a holiday, you should pay all additional costs resulting from extending your stay.
* Similarly, if your wife accompanies you, you should pay any additional costs resulting. With scenarios two and three there could, however, be reputational issues for the charity to consider. Could it appear to the charity's stakeholders or the wider public that you took advantage of the situation to get a cheap holiday? Could the charity justify or explain this?
This would be payment, rather than expenses. Different rules apply and these are also explained in Payment of Trustees. Trustees need specific authority to be paid, which may come from the charity's governing document, the Commission, or (from 2008) new powers in the Charities Act 2006, which will in certain circumstances enable trustees to be paid for providing services to a charity.
As a general rule, claims for expenses should be supported by bills or receipts from third parties, except where this is unreasonable or impractical.
Neal Green is a senior policy adviser for the Charity Commission