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Don’t allow disagreements to overshadow your charity’s positive work, says regulator

The Charity Commission offers advice to all charities as it closes its case into the Actors’ Benevolent Fund.

The charity regulator for England and Wales has officially closed its regulatory compliance case into the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, citing important lessons for all charities. 

In February 2022 the Commission opened a regulatory compliance case into concerns about governance and financial controls at the Fund, in the context of a significant disagreement around how trustees were appointed into and removed or retired from the charity’s board. This impacted the charity’s ability to deliver services and act on the regulator’s advice.    

The regulator encourages all charities to take steps to help avoid disputed trusteeship and to minimise the impact if these or significant disagreements should arise. It has also learned lessons itself as to how such cases should be handled in future. 

The Commission advises trustees at any charity to:  

  • Use our guidance to check their governing document is fit for purpose and not open to differing interpretations, taking extra care to ensure it is clear on how to appoint trustees and honorary roles.  
  • Ensure good practice on governance essentials, such as running effective meetings and being clear on how to appoint or elect trustees in line with the charity’s governing document.   
  • Ensure regular trustee rotation. There is no legal requirement for fixed-term board appointments, but the Charity Governance Code recommends rigorous review of the reappointment of any trustee who has served for nine or more years.  
  • Ensure transparency in decision-making and governance processes. Minute-taking protects charities when decisions are challenged during an internal dispute or from external critics. The regulator has guidance on taking minutes and running meetings.  

If disagreements do occur, the regulator urges trustees to not lose sight of their charity’s best interests or the good work it does for those who need it. The regulator recommends seeking mediation, showing good will and acting in good faith. It also encourages all trustees to be mindful to channel their belief in the charity’s mission in a constructive and collaborative way. 

After a difficult, damaging dispute which has diverted energy and resource away from the charity’s beneficiaries, the Actors’ Benevolent Fund membership has elected a trustee board that endorses the need to draw a line under the disruptive period.  

As part of its case, as a practical, interim measure, the Commission used its legal powers to appoint temporary trustees based on the member votes counted during the charity’s AGM in 2022. The regulator also ordered the charity to hold a new election to give its members another opportunity to have a democratic say in the charity’s trusteeships. The regulator is now satisfied the charity’s new board of trustees was appointed via a valid election in January this year.  

During its case, the Commission found the charity was operating without sufficient financial policies and had an unclear governing document which ultimately contributed to the dispute. Following the regulator’s advice, the charity’s governing document has been updated so that it can better guide the trustees.  

The Commission is assured the Actors’ Benevolent Fund’s new board of trustees are working together in the best interests of the charity. The charity has evidenced significant commitment to continuing to improve its governance, including developing a plan to revitalise governance and a strategy on how to better meet the needs of its beneficiaries. The Commission is therefore satisfied that its active engagement can conclude, expecting trustees to continue their efforts.  

Helen Earner, Director of Regulatory Services, at the Charity Commission, said:   

We have worked to draw a line under what has been a very disruptive period for the Actors’ Benevolent Fund and our regulatory compliance case has now concluded. The charity has set in motion several positive changes to strengthen how it operates and has a newly elected trustee board, and we’re hopeful there is now a renewed focus on helping beneficiaries.  

This has been a difficult time for all involved and we acknowledge some parties remain unhappy. We have ourselves learned lessons from this case and are already taking these forward in how we handle other cases where trustee appointment is disputed. We have also apologised for not including all past and present trustees in the early stages of our case, which was a fair challenge to our approach, but has not had a material impact on the overall outcome.  

We encourage other charities to reccognise the impact disagreements can have and take steps to avoid these situations. As regulator we cannot referee differences of opinion between trustees, but if necessary, we will step in and use our powers to appoint trustees, or assist a charity or its members to appoint trustees. 

Notes to Editors:  

  • The Charity Commission is the independent, non-ministerial government department that registers and regulates charities in England and Wales. Our ambition is to be the expert Charity Commission that is fair, balanced, and independent so that charity can thrive.  
  • More information on the Commission’s ‘essential trustee’ guidance and core responsibilities can be found on gov.uk.  
  • The Actors’ Benevolent Fund (ABF) was established to give relief, advice, welfare or assistance to members of the theatrical profession who cannot work because of accident, illness or old age, and to their spouses, civil partners and dependants. The Commission opened its case into the charity on 24 February 2022 and the case concluded on 17 May 2024.   

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Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dont-allow-disagreements-to-overshadow-your-charitys-positive-work-says-regulator

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