The founding trustee of a breast cancer charity warned by the Charity Commission after she was paid £31,000 says she was ‘morally right’ to accept payment for her work on the charity’s helpline.
Wendy Watson, who founded the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, received the payment for the work she did, despite being a trustee. The charity found itself at the receiving end of the Charity Commission’s first official warning – the first time it had used that power – for the payment of a trustee.
Watson has responded to criticism, claiming she put herself on the payroll in error after asking a solicitor in 2012 to formalise the helpline’s charitable status, and was unaware that they were breaking any laws.
In an interview with Sky News she said: “In 2014, I had worked voluntarily for two years. I asked my accountant if I may be on the payroll. I was told ‘yes’, so I went on the payroll for about a year, until I was seriously ill. I was paid that £31,000 — that was over about 14 months. We didn’t know we were doing anything wrong.”
Watson said that she was often working 24 hours for the charity’s support helpline. She resigned from her trustee role in 2016.
The charity’s main source of income was its shops, and the charity has been heavily criticised for spending less 4 per cent on the cause in some years.
She said of the charity’s activities: “I put some money in when we started setting up charity shops. The idea was to have a presence on the high street so that people could pop in and ask about breast cancer that was hereditary and get a leaflet or whatever.
“The idea was that in future they would be self-supporting information centres. The year the money went down was the year I was seriously ill, so I had to pay more money for people to do what I had been doing for free.
“I haven’t done anything wrong whatsoever. Morally I’ve done everything right. I’ve worked for free for 24 hours a day. My idea was to set up charity shops on the high street so people could know about hereditary cancer.”
‘I didn’t realise’
Speaking to BBC 5 Live Watson said: “"If you work it out what I was paid over five years, I was paid £31,000 for 24-hours-a-day work - that equates to less than 60p an hour, I don't think anybody would think that was excessive."
She said: "I certainly apologise if people think that I did not do the right thing."
She added: "I was stupid. I didn't realise. I just went along with what I was told."
The Charity Commission publishes guidance on the payment of trustees, which shows the rules and guidelines on doing so, and what criteria must be met.
The publicity around the charity has led to the debate over whether there should be fixed rules on how much of a charity’s income should go to good causes.
Gina Miller, whose organisation the True and Fair Foundation published controversial reports on the subject, has again been speaking up against charities who do not spend enough on good causes.
She called the matter “absolutely scandalous” and said to the BBC: “When most people give over their money they believe the majority of it should go towards the end charitable work.
"This charity's spending should have been picked up by the Charity Commission a long time ago."