Samaritans has said it is taking allegations about its incoming chief executive Jeremy Hughes “very seriously”, after the Charity Commission said it would investigate claims about the Alzheimer’s Society's use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
On Friday afternoon, the Guardian reported that up to £750,000 had been paid to staff who signed NDAs at the Alzheimer's Society, where Hughes is currently chief executive. The Society has said this figure is inaccurate and that it only uses settlements for “legitimate reasons”.
Hughes is due to join Samaritans as chief executive in May, having held the top job at the Alzheimer’s Society for a decade.
Samaritans has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Civil Society Media, but yesterday it was replying to people on social media.
In response to worries raised about NDAs being used to silence bullying claims at the charity, Samaritans tweeted: “The welfare of our staff and volunteers at Samaritans is of the utmost importance and our board of trustees takes allegations of this nature very seriously.”
Alzheimer's Society has an income of £111.7m, while Samaritans has an income of £20m.
The outgoing chief executive of Samaritans, Ruth Sutherland, earned £137,000 in the year ending March 2019, according to the charity's annual accounts. At the Alzheimer's Society, the highest paid individual earned between £150,001 and £160,000, although its the accounts do not confirm whether this was Hughes.
Timeline of Samaritans chief executive appointment
Sutherland had been chief executive at Samaritans since 2015, and her departure was announced last year.
Samaritans advertised the chief executive post in October 2019, with the salary listed as negotiable depending on experience.
In January 2020 the suicide prevention charity announced that Hughes would become its next chief executive.
He had announced his departure from the Alzheimer's Society in September 2019, and in December 2019 the Society announced that Kate Lee from CLIC Sargent would become its next chief executive from April.
At the time, the Alzheimer's Society emphasised that the announcement was not connected to any of the claims of bullying that were being made on social media via an anonymous and now-deleted Twitter account, and had “been planned for some time”.
The whistleblowing account said it had been set up by a group of employees “with significant concerns about the Society’s leadership”, and was urging others to come forward with their stories.
Commenting on Hughes' appointment in January, Jenni McCartney, chair of Samaritans, said: “I am delighted to welcome Jeremy to Samaritans. He brings with him a wealth of experience from the voluntary sector, and a passion for what we do. Over the last five years, Samaritans has achieved some significant positive changes under Ruth’s leadership, including improvements in our infrastructure, service offering, visibility and influence.
“Jeremy joins at an exciting time for us and I look forward to working with him to build on our recent successes to ensure that we achieve our mission that fewer people die by suicide.”
The Charity Commission has said it will investigate concerns about the Alzheimer’s Society’s approach to dealing with staff grievances and that it is now looking into a complaint that was initially made in 2018.