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Housing charity given an official warning

25 Sep 2019 News

The Charity Commission has issued an official warning to Bristol Sheltered Accommodation and Support (BSAS), which formerly ran Wick House and Shepherds Hall, saying the charity “let down” its residents “over a long period of time”.

Five residents have died at Wick House since 2014. A recent inquest into the death of one of the residents heard in November 2018 did not find the charity responsible.

However, the inquiry report, published today, is critical of the trustees’ failure to show that they had addressed the lessons from serious incidents involving the wellbeing of beneficiaries, including their failure to report the deaths of residents to the regulator. 

The inquiry identified weaknesses in the charity’s records which meant the trustees “could not evidence having discussed and addressed serious safeguarding incidents, including the deaths of residents, appropriately”. 
It cites a number of incidents that the trustees failed to report:

  • The death of a resident in November 2016.
  • The suspension, by Bristol City Council, of housing benefit payments for the residents at Shepherd Hall in March 2018.
  • Notice given by the landlord of Shepherds Hall in September 2018 that the charity vacate the premises.
  • The closure of Shepherds Hall in December 2018.

The Commission’s investigation also found that, despite previous guidance, unauthorised payments amounting to over £48,000 in salary payments were made to two trustees between 2012 and 2015.
One of the trustees was also the director of the company that purchased one of the properties the charity was leasing in 2015.

The Commission has issued the charity with an official warning to address past failings in its administration, and two of the charity’s former trustees have signed voluntary undertakings not to serve as trustees for periods of four and five years.

Commission: Trustees ‘could not show that they had taken these incidents seriously’

Sarah Atkinson, director of policy at the Commission, said: “Our inquiry has – rightly – held the former trustees of BSAS to account for their failings. I am acutely aware, however, that our investigation alone goes a small way towards achieving what the families of men who have died at Wick House deserve. Namely that lessons are learnt from their deaths.
“People living in settings such as Wick House – and their families – should have confidence in the support they will get.”

Amy Spiller, head of investigations at the Commission, added: “It’s clear from our investigation that this charity was mismanaged over a long period of time, and that its trustees repeatedly disregarded regulatory advice and were receiving unauthorised payments. All charities should be managed with care and probity, and residents of Wick House and their families have been let down. We have held the charity to account for these failings.
“The public expect charities that work with vulnerable people to demonstrate that the protection and welfare of their beneficiaries is a priority. The trustees in this case could not show that they had taken these incidents seriously, and had not reported all of the deaths of the people in their care to the Commission. We are critical of their failures in this respect. All trustees, of all charities must uphold basic standards of conduct.”

Charity response

A spokesperson for the charity said: “We wish to thank the Charities Commission [sic] for their investigative work, which has prompted major changes and improvements in the running of the charity. The board of trustees has seen a number of changes of the years, most importantly with the majority of the trustees being new appointments to take it forward.

“We are thankful to the Commission for their recommendations and that they have allowed the charity to continue doing the work of housing homeless people with support needs. We take note of their summary of events and will make certain that the inadequacies that have been highlighted have been carefully addressed both now and in the future.
“Historically, the charity have found it difficult to function over the years with the large rents being taken by the landlords of our two main premises, Wick House and Shepherds Hall. The charity has also had issues with the planning permission which the landlords have not wanted to take part in when it was their responsibility.”

Wider concern around the regulation of supported housing 

The Commission has highlighted wider problems with the regulation of supported accommodation, which it is discussing with government.
It reported that current regulation of supported housing limits the Commission’s ability to hold charities providing such accommodation to account.
Atkinson said: “We are concerned that, at the moment, the lack of agreed standards and regulatory oversight over what should be on offer in supported accommodation means that neither the public, nor we as the regulator, can confidently hold a charity offering this type of accommodation to account. Conversely, charities that are providing appropriate support cannot currently show the public or their regulator that this is the case.  
“This represents a problem not just for residents and their families, but also for public trust in charities that are associated in the public mind with care and support for vulnerable people. We are determined to ensure the lessons are learnt from Wick House and other similar settings.”

Some providers of supported accommodation are registered charities, but not all. The report found that the case of Wick House is not the only example where questions have been raised about the support provided to some residents.
The Commission briefed the chairs of the Work and Pensions Committee, and Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. 

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