Exclusive By Amie Keeley
Monday, February 4, 2013
HUNDREDS of charities across Essex are failing to publicly declare what their cash is being spent on, it has emerged.
According to the Charity Commission’s website, there are 259 charities in the county that are failing to submit their annual returns, with some going back as far as seven years.
If a charity’s annual income is more than £10,000 it is a legal requirement for the trustees to send the Commission an annual return each year, which is then published online.
However, an investigation carried out by the East Anglian Daily Times revealed that 29 charities in north Essex have outstanding documents, including one which receives thousands of pounds in grants from its town council.
The Charity Commission said it was vital charities were “open and transparent” with their donors and urged all those which are yet to send in their paperwork to do so as soon as possible.
A number of the charity trustees in question that the EADT spoke to said changes in leadership and poor handovers from their predecessors meant they were unaware they had to submit paperwork. Others said because of the small number of volunteers which work for their charity, it was difficult to manage administrative duties on top of the work they do for the community. Polly Kettenacker, a spokeswoman for the Charity Commission, said: “Charities have to try to be open and transparent with their donors.
“Yes, there is accountability on the trustees but funders also have a duty to check a charity’s financial records.
“Our advice would be don’t give to charities if their accounts are overdue. If the charity is funded by a local authority or grant making body, what checks have been made?”
The Government is currently reviewing the Charities Act and the Charity Commission says it has suggested charities that file accounts late should be prevented from claiming gift aid.
“We are limited in what sanctions we can give,” Ms Kettenacker added. “We do have some powers, which are quite robust, but it would take a lot more than a late submission of accounts for the Commission to interact directly with a charity.
“We believe there should be an economic sanction on charities, that is from HM Revenue and Customs.”
She said 86% of charities do send their paperwork in on time but sometimes when accounts are filed late it is because the charities no longer exist and have not notified the Commission.
Charities with an annual income of £10,000 or less do not have to file at all, but are required to inform them if their details have changed.
“If we haven’t heard from a charity after having sent out reminders we will assume they no longer exist and take them off the system,” Ms Kettenacker added.
However, she said sometimes it is not possible if the charity owns significant assets.