Commission orders actors’ charity to conduct new trustee election after ‘bitter dispute’

25 Apr 2023 News

Actors Benevolent Fund logo

The Charity Commission has ordered the Actors’ Benevolent Fund to hold a second annual general meeting (AGM) after a “breach in the process” of its latest trustee election. 

The regulator opened a compliance case into the charity a year ago after complaints were made about the process of its 2022 AGM.

The breach in process was a decision to close rather than adjourn the AGM, which led to internal concerns about the validity of decisions and appointments made on the day. 

According to reports in the Daily Mail, 10 long-standing trustees and actors were removed from the charity in what has been described as an “ousting”. This included Penelope Keith, 83, who had been president of the charity for 32 years. 

The Commission has ordered the charity to hold another AGM no later than December 2023 and make changes to its governing document. 

The regulator said it had spent a lot of public resources in working to resolve the charity’s “avoidable” disputes. 

Created in 1882, the Actors’ Benevolent Fund’s purpose is to provide support to actors and their families who may have came into financial difficulties. 

‘Not served the interest of the charity’s members or beneficiaries’

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have worked extensively over recent months to help the Actors’ Benevolent Fund overcome a bitter dispute that has not served the interests of the charity’s members or beneficiaries and has been harmful to the charity’s reputation and its ability to operate effectively.

“Through our investigations, we have concluded that, while there was a breach in the process of the trustee election held at the charity’s AGM in December 2022, those who received the most votes should now be appointed as trustees. 

“The breach we identified was a decision to close, rather than adjourn the charity’s 2022 AGM. To allow the charity to operate, we have therefore used our powers to appoint as trustees those individuals who received the most votes from the membership.

“However, we have directed the charity and its trustees to hold another AGM by no later than December 2023 to give the members another opportunity to have their democratic say on the charity’s leadership. This will allow the charity to draw a line under the dispute, and ensure the trustees can focus their energies on furthering the charity’s purposes. We hope and expect all parties to this dispute to move forward together in the interests of the charity and its beneficiaries.”

The charity told Civil Society that it is being reformed and that since last spring it has been implementing an action plan from the Commission because of a “failing of previous leadership”.

“Whilst the process of the election held as part of the 2022 AGM was flawed, the Commission recognises the difficult situation the charity was in and the efforts made to hold an AGM so that members could decide who should be the trustees. We have seen the Popularis report which shows that a large number of members did vote,” a spokesperson from the organisation said. 

“Additionally, having met the 12 individuals who obtained the highest number of votes, the Commission’s view is that it is in the charity’s best interests that the Commission appoints them as trustees. We consider that, in taking these actions, we will be putting the governance of the charity on a secure footing going forward.”

The charity disclosed that there was “overwhelming support” for the changes made at Actors’ Benevolent Fund. It also said it has adopted the Charity Governance Code when it had not been previously.

A spokesperson for the excluded trustees criticised the Commission's handling of the situation.

The spokesperson told Civil Society: “It is extraordinary that the Charity Commission can sit on its hands while a group of people hijack a £30m+ charity under its nose and then let those very people who caused the chaos carry on regardless of their incompetence. Since September 2022 there have been two failed general meetings - the second, the AGM, has left the charity without any trustees and acting unlawfully. Last week the Charity Commission seemed to be implying that it had acted to remedy the situation when it became aware of it. This is nonsense. The Commission has been supervising these people for over a year.

“When the Commission received an email four months ago, on the very day of the AGM, 12 December 2022, to point out that the charity had no trustees - what did they do? They did nothing. And now, if you can believe it, the Commission has apparently used its power to put these people into the posts they could not manage to get themselves into. The majority of those the Commission is appointing caused all the problems. The Charity Commission keeps saying charities need to maintain public trust and confidence. That certainly hasn’t happened in this case. As one of the former Vice-Presidents said: 'There is no bitterness amongst us, just concern for the charity and its beneficiaries.'”

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