The Charity Commission has issued an official warning to British Pakistani Christians Ltd over concerns about safeguarding, financial management and conflicts of interest.
The formal warning was issued in February, as part of an ongoing compliance case opened by the Commission in 2019.
The charity’s founder, Wilson Chowdhry resigned as a director and chair of trustees shortly before the Commission started its case. His wife, Juliet Chowdhry, became chair of the charity.
Civil Society News has now discovered that the founder has maintained a series of connections with the charity, despite the regulator’s concerns about conflicts of interest.
The charity – formerly known as the British Pakistani Christian Association and still commonly called BPCA – admitted that it still operates from a building owned by Mr Chowdhry, that supporters are asked to post donations to his property, and that phone calls to the charity are sometimes handled by a private firm where Chowdhry is a director.
BPCA said that Chowdhry has no role there. The watchdog’s case is still open.
The Commission opened a compliance case into BPCA in July 2019, following a complaint about the charity.
BPCA runs programmes overseas and in England, including safe houses and financial support for victims of persecution. It had an income of just over £250,000 last year, according to its latest accounts.
The regulator agreed an action plan with trustees in April 2020, which was designed to help the board strengthen its safeguarding policies and manage both its finances and potential conflicts of interest.
However, in February of this year the Commission issued the charity with an official warning, and said that “although the trustees had made some attempt to comply with the terms of the action plan, they had not done so in full”.
The regulator said BPCA trustees had “failed to adequately manage a specific safeguarding incident” and had not made enough progress “avoiding or managing conflicts of interest”.
Wilson Chowdhry founded BPCA in 2013, and was director and chair of trustees until he left the charity in June 2019, saying that his departure was due to “personal reasons”.
However, Civil Society News has established that Chowdhry has maintained connections to BPCA, even after the regulator raised questions about conflicts of interest.
When Civil Society News phoned BPCA last month, using the telephone number listed with the Charity Commission, it was answered by someone working for AA Securities, a private firm where Chowdhry is a director. That person suggested calling a different phone number, which also turned out to be listed online for AA Securities.
Chowdhry owns the property in east London from which BPCA is run, although the charity said he has not charged them rent since 2019. BPCA confirmed that this property was its “operational base”, even though it does not match the contact address provided to the Charity Commission, nor a third address published in its latest annual accounts.
On the BPCA website, supporters wishing to make postal donations to the charity are invited to send them to the same property owned by Chowdhry.
A community interest company, set up at that address in the same month as the Charity Commission’s warning, was established in the name of Chowdhry’s teenage daughter and a former volunteer at BPCA.
A BPCA spokesperson said that any confusion over the telephone number was because telephone lines had been transferred back and forth between the charity and Chowdhry’s company since 2019.
They said: “For many years Mr Chowdhry allowed free use of his business line for calls to BPCA, as he was able to answer calls when other BPCA volunteers were non-available. When he left, we asked for exclusive use and we took over control of the number and the cost.
“Mrs Chowdhry temporarily changed AA Securities’ number to the new one you refer to. In December we agreed to allow Mrs Chowdhry a return of the number and she allowed use of the other number for free.
“We have never paid for it. It is rarely answered and messages and checked once a month. We get very few calls.”
BPCA said that, while it worked from a property owned by Chowdhry, it estimated the charity had saved approximately £18,000 a year because he had waived any rent charges since he left.
The spokesperson also said that only trustees have a key to open the charity’s dedicated post box at the address.
They said that the new CIC established at the same property will “take on the responsibility” for homelessness services previously run by BPCA.
Civil Society News understands that a police investigation into allegations relating to the charity was resolved earlier this year without any further action.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have issued the charity with an official warning.
“However, this remains an active case and we are unable to provide any further information at this time so as to ensure due process.
“It is likely we will publish our findings once our case is concluded.”