Charity founder and trustee son banned after spending thousands on personal luxuries

13 Jan 2023 News

Charity Commission building and logo

Civil Society Media

The Charity Commission has disqualified a founder and former chief executive of a homelessness charity and his trustee son after finding the pair misspent thousands of pounds of the organisation’s funds.

In its three-year investigation into the Ashley Foundation, the Commission found that former CEO Lee Dribben used charity expenses on luxury travel and meals, including over £3,000 on a three-night trip to London.

It found that former trustees financially benefitted by selling off several of the Lancashire-based charity’s properties used to house homeless people “before entering into highly disadvantageous agreements with a third party” to manage them.

In one instance, Dribben’s son and former trustee Ashley Dribben received £40,000 for his involvement in a property sale.

The inquiry found that thousands of pounds of charity funds were spent on the repair and upkeep of personal properties belonging to both Lee and Ashley Dribben.

Charity money was also inappropriately spent on luxury items including Apple Watches, flat screen TVs and silk sheets, which Lee Dribben claimed were gifts for associates.

The Commission concluded that there was serious misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the Ashley Foundation and disqualified both Lee and Ashley Dribben from charity trusteeships and senior management for 15 years.

It also banned former chair David Kam for 10 years.

The regulator froze the charity’s bank accounts and prevented further sale of property. The inquiry referred its concerns about potential criminality to Lancashire police.

Regulator: ‘Significant unauthorised personal benefit’

Amy Spiller, head of investigations at the Commission, said: “Our investigation found that the former trustees and CEO misused this charity and received significant unauthorised personal benefit from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless people.

“Trustees must use their charity’s funds to further the charity’s purposes and ensure there are robust financial and controls in place to stop the abuse of these funds.

“I commend the current board of trustees for identifying the serious wrongdoing and initiating action to put the charity’s house in order.

“I hope that their work, and our intervention, means the charity is now able to deliver on its charitable purposes to help the homeless across Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.”

Action to rectify governance

The Commission is now satisfied the appropriate controls are in place to safeguard the charity’s assets moving forward.

Its report stresses that the charity’s current trustees have taken action to rectify governance problems, including in successfully re-acquiring the sold properties and terminating the agreements. 

In October 2020, in accordance with the Charity Commission, the charity appointed a new board of trustees after Kam and Ashley Dribben resigned.

The Ashley Foundation was founded by Lee Dribben and registered as a charity in 1997. It operates hostels and flats for homeless people in Blackpool, Sunderland and Blackburn.

New chair: ‘Difficult period for charity’

Lisa Edwards, current chair of the Ashley Foundation, said: “We thank the Charity Commission for its thorough investigation and welcome its report.

“This statutory inquiry was undertaken after myself and the current CEO raised concerns about the conduct of a number of former trustees and the former CEO.

“The findings of the investigation are deeply distressing, but are, sadly, as we suspected. This is why we took our concerns to both the Charity Commission and Lancashire Police three years ago.

“We would like to make it clear the trustees and former CEO referred to in the Commission’s inquiry report are no longer, in any way, connected to the Ashley Foundation.

“We thank the Charity Commission for its recognition of the diligent work the current board of trustees has undertaken to ensure the charity’s future and that robust financial controls have been put in place.

“This has been a difficult period for the Ashley Foundation and I would like to thank our residents, dedicated staff, trustees and local authority partners for their help and support during this time. We look forward to continuing to provide vital services for homeless people across the north of England.”

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