Anger over Suffolk charity's £1.1m 'unlawful property transactions'
PUBLISHED: 05:30 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 06:05 18 October 2018
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A charity which owns land in one of Suffolk’s most iconic coastal villages has admitted to “multiple unlawful property transactions” costing it £1.1million.
The Walberswick Common Lands Charity (WCLC) made the admission in a “serious incident report” in its recently published financial statement for 2017.
The charity, which is the largest landowner in the village, said the transactions related to property agreements in its role as landlord and occurred between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The charity’s property agreements include licences for beach and fishing huts, leases of commercial property, agricultural grazing sites, ground rent and parking licences – however it has not confirmed which were affected by the unlawful transactions.
John MacCarthy, who lives in the village, said the statement left more questions than answers. “I think it’s a disgrace,” he added, “It should not have been allowed to happen and there should be a transparent process to look at what went wrong.”
The charity confirmed trustees had acted outside their powers by awarding tenants “tradable property interests with the equivalent of a freehold value” as part of the agreements.
Although the cost to WCLC has been calculated as £1.1million in lost value of its holdings, the charity said that as none of the properties concerned had been sold, no tenant “crystallised any financial benefit”.
There is no suggestion the tenants acted inappropriately.
The trustees were said to have received “unequivocal legal advice” that the transactions were within their powers.
The charity said the trustees had since offered the tenants new, lawful, 21-year agreements.
“The trustees sincerely hope that the tenants concerned will accept their offer, enabling this unfortunate error to be rectified,” a spokesman said.
“While this will mean that the tenants concerned lose out on a possible financial windfall, there is no question that anyone will lose the right to continue using their properties.”
The charity has spent £20,000 on professional fees and said it has undertaken a detailed review of the circumstances which led to the unlawful transaction.
“We are currently working with the parties concerned and the Charity Commission to rectify the situation, which will take time,” a spokesman added.
The charity said trustees had learned lessons from the incident and had taken steps to protect its interests.
The Charity Commission has been aware of the unlawful transaction carried out by the trustees of the Walberswick Common Lands Charity and is said to be working to resolve the situation.
A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: “The Commission is aware that three leases were entered into without following the proper legal processes.
“The charity has taken advice on how to deal with this matter and we are engaging with trustees to gather further information.
“However, due to the ongoing engagement with the trustees, we are unable to comment further at this time.”