Charity Commission
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Regulator finds ‘no evidence of charitable work’ at charity to help Syria

Syria Aid trustee disqualified for serious mismanagement.

An individual has been banned from charity trusteeship for ten years by the Charity Commission, after being found responsible for serious mismanagement of a charity set up to support people in Syria.

A Charity Commission inquiry has found that the individual, who acted as the sole trustee of the charity, could provide no evidence of charitable activity.

Syria Aid came to the Commission’s attention in 2013 through media reports about its sole trustee, who was also the trustee of another charity about which the regulator had concerns.

Syria Aid’s website, and the company’s governing document, referred to the organisation as a charity and acknowledged the Commission as its regulator. Yet the trustee took no steps to apply for registration as a charity, as is required in law.

The Commission also found there was only one trustee overseeing the organisation and managing charitable funds.

When repeated attempts to engage with the trustee failed, the Commission opened an inquiry to investigate.

The inquiry found that the trustee had failed to provide any financial accounts, in breach of the charity’s governing document and legal duty under company and charity law.

No financial controls were in place; charitable funds were mixed in with personal bank accounts and no receipts or records of income or spending were kept.

During the investigation, the trustee did not co-operate, and, significantly, it was not possible to establish whether Syria Aid undertook any charitable activity.

The Commission froze the bank accounts holding charitable funds and formally requested the restitution of the charitable funds already spent. However, the trustee was found to have no visible income or assets and therefore the Commission decided it could not yet pursue restitution.

In 2017 the Commission disqualified the trustee from serving as a charity trustee and from acting in a senior management function within a charity for a period of ten years.

Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said:

Those who gave generously to Syria Aid legitimately expected that their money would help people in urgent need. Sadly, our inquiry found no evidence that any funds reached the people they were purportedly raised for. This is clearly an abuse of public trust and what it means to be a charity.

The individual responsible has rightly been disqualified from acting as a trustee, but the publication of this inquiry should also serve to deter others who might be tempted to misuse charity.

Notes to editors:

  • Funds raised for charitable purposes in England and Wales, even if they are not raised by a registered charity, fall within the Commission’s regulatory jurisdiction.
  • People who manage and are responsible for appeals for charitable purposes (including those created by non-charitable organisations) hold the position of trustee and have the legal duties and responsibilities of a trustee.
  • The Commission regularly publishes advice for the public on safer giving to charities
  • The charity had ceased to exist by April 2016.

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