Mermaids charity files serious incident report with the Charity Commission

07 Oct 2022 News

Mermaids have filed serious incident reports to the Charity Commission, on a number of matters recently reported in the media. 

A Commission spokesperson said: “We can confirm that, in line with our guidance, Mermaids has filed serious incident reports relating to matters recently reported in the media. We are engaging with the charity as part of an ongoing regulatory compliance case.”

Last week the charity closed its helpline and web chat service, and has issued a new statement saying this will continue until Wednesday.

The charity is currently subject to a regulatory compliance case from the Charity Commission, which has received numerous complaints about the organisation, and this week had its lottery funding paused as a result.

A trustee at Mermaids has also resigned after the Times reported he had spoken at a conference hosted by an organisation that promotes services to paedophiles.

‘Due to intolerable abuse, we have made the decision to close the helpline’

Mermaid's statement reads: “Due to intolerable abuse, we have made the decision to close the helpline and web chat services for the rest of today and tomorrow. Next week, to enable us to take all volunteers off the rota, we will reduce hours to 9am to 6pm only.

“We do not make this decision lightly, but our duty of care towards staff and volunteers necessitates a harm reduction approach to protect our dedicated staff and volunteer team. We hope to be able to resume normal working hours as soon as possible.”

Its more recent statement says: “Firstly, we have regrettably continued to receive a high volume of distressing, and in some cases threatening, calls, emails and web chat contacts as a result of some of the recent coverage.

“We must protect our staff from this unacceptable abuse, and therefore we will be closing the helpline service tomorrow (Wednesday 12 October) in order to give them respite. We will be resuming a normal service as soon as we can, but we are operating in a particularly challenging environment at present and there may be further interruptions to our usual service.

“We are taking all possible steps in response, including referring all contacts of a criminal nature to the police.”

NLCF funding paused 

The National Lottery Community Fund paused its funding to the charity while the Commission conducts its compliance case.

“We have paused any future payments to Mermaids, pending the Charity Commission’s regulatory compliance case. This is an option open to us in cases such as this,” a spokesperson confirmed.

Mermaids declined to comment on the pausing of NLCF funding.

The grant was for £500,000 and designated for a project designed to support young people who are transgender or gender non-conforming. It was issued in May 2019 and was set to be paid out until May 2024.

The Charity Commission has no involvement in funding decisions taken by third parties, but Civil Society News understands its compliance case into Mermaids is assessing a range of concerns raised regarding the charity’s approach to safeguarding young people. 

Trustee resignation

Belinda Bell, chair of Mermaids, said on 3 October the charity became aware that one of its trustees, Dr Breslow, participated in a 2011 conference that would have disqualified him from becoming a trustee.

“Once notified, we immediately launched an investigation and Dr Breslow tendered his notice that same day,” read the statement.

She said Breslow was a trustee “for a very short period of time, during which he had no interactions with any of our young people or families” and attended one regular quarterly board meeting.

Bell said Breslow should “never have been appointed to the board” and she is “horrified” that he was.

As a result, the charity is commissioning a review of its trustee recruitment process to be carried out by an external expert body and evaluating its policies and procedures, in conjunction with an external expert body.

Bell added the charity has updated the Commission on the matter and “the steps the charity intends to take to ensure there is transparency about what happened”.

Editor's Note: This article and headline have been updated to include the fact Mermaids has filed serious incident reports with the Charity Commission, and to include a recent statement from the charity about its helpline closure.

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