Regulator stands by actors’ charity intervention after critical report

16 Jan 2024 News

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Civil Society Media

The Charity Commission has defended its decision to intervene in a long-running trustee dispute at the Actors’ Benevolent Fund after a critical internal review.

A review carried out by the Commission in response to a complaint made about its intervention concluded that it treated trustees excluded by the charity in a governance shake-up “unfairly”.

The review concluded the regulator had “not approached the dispute in a fair and even-handed manner”, documents seen by Civil Society suggest.

It found that the Commission did not decide that the charity’s former trustees were removed validly in February 2022 but proceeded as though they were no longer trustees after that point.

The review recommended that the Commission “should not prefer one group of purported trustees over another in future”.

Despite the review’s findings, a Commission spokesperson said: “We stand by our decision to intervene in this damaging and costly dispute about the Actors’ Benevolent Fund governance.

“Our review does not change what the charity must do to get back on-track.

“All parties agree on the need to appoint a board of trustees, via an election open to all members, and we continue to require them to do so under our legally binding order.

“As a fair and accountable regulator, we are always open to the opportunity to review and explain our decisions.

“We will take forward lessons into how we handle other cases where trustee appointments are disputed.”

The Commission used its powers in 2022 under section 80 of the Charities Act 2011, which enables it to appoint or remove trustees of its own motion.

“Had we not intervened with the section 80 order, the charity would have been left with no trustees, thereby unable to operate,” the Commission said.

Charity ‘now in a very positive place’

An Actors Benevolent Fund spokesperson said: “The Commission was only commenting on its own handling of the case not on the trustees or the charity itself. That is a very important distinction to make. 

“The charity has not seen the report from the Charity Commission which is private between the Commission and the complainant.

“We have spoken to the Commission who have advised that if there was anything pertinent to the charity or the trustees within the report then they would have told us.

“Following the intervention of the Charity Commission in 2022, the Commission identified a large number of governance issues within the charity dating back many years, and the current trustees have been working hard over the past two years to fix these.

“These include trustees not having had terms of office and there not being policies in place for many important areas of work.

“The charity is now in a very positive place with around two-thirds more beneficiaries being helped in 2023 compared to 2022 and the charity developing new initiatives to increase awareness and impact.

“The Commission has confirmed that it is pleased with the progress made by the charity’s trustees.”

Ongoing dispute

In February 2022, 10 trustees including the actor Dame Penelope Keith were reportedly ousted from the charity’s board by nine new trustees.

The 10 former trustees including Keith resigned in December of that year.

Some 16 trustees are currently listed on the Commission’s website, eight of which joined since January 2023, including broadcaster Loyd Grossman.

Tomorrow, an annual general meeting is set to be held, in which members will be able to vote for a new board of trustees.

The former trustees are not running for selection, but actors Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes and TV judge Rob Rinder have all put themselves forward.

Robert Bathurst, an actor and qualified barrister standing for election said: “The charity was taken over unlawfully right under the nose of the Charity Commission.

“It took 18 months of formal complaints before I was invited to explain to the Commission in person.

“During that time there has been financial and reputational damage to the ABF, which was completely avoidable if the Charity Commission had acted correctly and in time.

“Its failures run from the case team to the very top of the Commission and include its regulatory and legal teams who must have consciously chosen to ignore the weight of legal opinion against them.

“There must be accountability for the unlawful conduct of the ABF’s sitting trustees, enabled by the regulator’s failures.”

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