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Poverty charity broke campaigning rules, Charity Commission finds

24 Aug 2021 News

The Charity Commission’s statutory inquiry into the poverty charity Humanity Torbay concluded that trustees broke political campaigning rules, according to correspondence posted online.

The regulator also criticised the founder and former chief executive Ellie Waugh, saying that her “conduct fell a long way short of the standard expected of trustees”.

The Commission has not yet published the outcome of its inquiry, but a letter from officials was posted on Facebook last week by Waugh. The Commission did not deny the authenticity of the correspondence.

The letter said that the inquiry found “there had been misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity and that the trustees breached their local duties and responsibilities concerning political campaigning and activity”.

Waugh, who stepped down as chief executive shortly after the inquiry opened, acknowledged that she had broken regulations but told Civil Society News that, given the chance again, she would not do anything differently.

Inquiry

Humanity Torbay was established in 2017 to distribute emergency food packages and fight poverty in the local area. It was removed from the register of charities in March 2021.

The Commission opened an inquiry in June 2020 following complaints that the charity had repeatedly posted party political content on its website and social media.

Waugh announced that she was leaving the charity a month later, saying: “I admit that I put political posts on [Humanity Torbay’s social media] and I admit I told the truth.”

Under charity regulations, voluntary organisations can make political comments in line with their charitable objectives but cannot get involved in political campaigning.

‘Posts of a political nature’

In the letter published online, the Charity Commission told Waugh that its misconduct finding “relates to the trustees’ failure to stop posts of a political nature being entered on the Facebook page used by the charity.

“The Commission acknowledges that you were not a trustee at the time but that you carried out various roles within the charity.

“This matter is particularly relevant to you as you have accepted that you primarily used and controlled the Facebook page and posts entered on that page on behalf of the charity.”

The regulator concluded that the repeated political postings, even after the Commission had issued the charity with advice, represented a “sustained course of action” by Waugh.

It invited Waugh to agree voluntarily not to take up senior roles with any charity for the next four years.

Commission: Inquiry is ongoing 

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “Our statutory inquiry into Humanity Torbay remains ongoing. 

“Our final findings and conclusions will be set out in a report published in due course. We cannot comment further in the meantime.”

Former boss: ‘I would do it all again’

Speaking to Civil Society News, Waugh conceded that she had broken the rules, saying of the Charity Commission: “They warned me. Hands up, I admitted I'd done it.”

Waugh said that she and her trustees “all went into this very naively”, but strongly defended her actions.

She said: “I just think that sometimes you've got to put your head above the pulpit. If you're going to get it blown off, you're going to get it blown off, but at least you've tried.”

Waugh added: “I'm really proud. I would do it all again. I would do exactly the same again. I'd stand up and I'd say: ‘This is what's going on’.”

She confirmed that she had already told the Commission she would not take up senior positions in the sector in the future, but argued that the existing rules were wrong.

Highlighting charities’ work on poverty and refugee rights, Waugh said: “Charity is about everything. We should be allowed to speak out, and say what is going on.”

She concluded: “So many people will not stand up for the truth and what's right. And I think that's why people support us.”

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.

 

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