The Charity Commission has opened its third investigation in the space of five years into a church charity where a former bishop stole £186,000.
Today the regulator announced it has opened a statutory inquiry into a Bethel United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic, which has failed file its accounts on time - for the fifth successive year - and is currently over 90 days late. It was previously part of a class inquiry into "double defaulter" charities, which had not filed accounts, and has been the subject of an operational compliance case.
It has now failed to submit its 2016 accounts on time. Accounts were late for the years 2012 to 2015, and for the last three years they have been qualified - meaning that the charity's auditors had concerns about them.
The charity was also the subject of an operational compliance case after one of its bishops was jailed for stealing £186,000 from the church. In its case report the Commission said it had told the charity to improve its governance arrangements, after discovering that trustees had been reluctant to report concerns.
For the past three years its accounts have been qualified, meaning that the charity’s auditors have highlighted concerns in their report.
Its annual income is just over £1m and it employs 20 people.
Today the Commission announced that it has identified further concerns and launched a fresh inquiry to examine the charity’s financial controls and governance.
It said: "Although the charity submitted its outstanding accounting information to the class inquiry last year, it has again failed to comply with its legal obligations to file accounts and the accounts for the year ending March 2016 are now overdue.
"As a result of its engagement, the Commission has identified further serious regulatory concerns regarding the charity’s financial controls and governance, which will be examined as a part of the statutory inquiry."
Its inquiry will also look at whether the charity has complied with previously issued regulatory guidance and related party transactions.
Time for a new structure
In 2014 the Charity Commission urged Bethel United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic to reconsider its structure and in its 2015 accounts the charity indicates it is in the process of de-merging branches of the church.
The Commission’s compliance case report, published November 2014, said that a number of branch churches had registered as separate charities.
But the charity’s audit firm, Dains LLP, said in 2014 and 2015: “The audit evidence available to us was limited because records relating to some of the branch churches were not available from the charity.
“As a result we have not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence concerning all of the branch churches income, expenditure, assets and liabilities, which we considered necessary for our audit.”