The former leadership of refugee charity Care4Calais has been criticised by the Charity Commission for a raft of governance and financial failures “over a number of years”.
In concluding there were “several instances” of misconduct and/or mismanagement at the charity the regulator found that the former trustees “lacked appropriate governance structures, had poor internal financial controls and that its approach to handling complaints was inadequate”.
The regulator’s findings follow an inquiry which launched in August 2020 and the appointment of an interim manager to review the running of the charity, which provides aid to migrants living in northern France.
Among concerns were payments of more than £340,000 into the personal bank account of one of the charity’s now former trustees over three years from October 2017. These were reimbursements for an arrangement around foreign exchange fees, that saved the charity around £3,000 a year, the regulator found.
The Commission found that while the trustee did not benefit personally from this arrangement it “was inappropriate and put the charity’s funds at undue risk”.
Governance concerns are also detailed in the Charity Commission’s inquiry report into the charity.
This includes concerns that the charity’s founder, Clare Moseley was a trustee and also its unpaid chief executive. The interim manager had recommended that an independent CEO be appointed. Moseley has since stepped down as CEO and has resigned as a trustee.
The Commission also raises concerns that the charity only had two trustees between 2020 and 2021. In addition, one of three trustees named during the inquiry was Moseley’s sister, who did not stand for re-election and stopped being a board member in December last year.
In addition, complaint handling “was inadequate” with the charity failing to demonstrate that complaints could be “handled in an impartial, fair, open and transparent way”. Records of investigations were also not kept and conflict of interest concerns were raised as on one occasion a complaint about Clare Moseley was handled by her sister.
We’ve concluded the former trustees of Care4Calais are responsible for historic serious misconduct and/or mismanagement.— Charity Commission (@ChtyCommission) August 24, 2023
The charity’s governance has improved significantly under new leadership and as a result of our intervention.
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The Commission welcomes “significant improvements” taken by the charity’s new trustee board, around its governance, management, operation and complaints handling process.
“I am pleased that the Commission’s intervention has led to significant improvements to the charity’s governance, not least thanks to the work of the interim manager and new leadership,” said Charity Commission chair Orlando Fraser.
“The charity is now in a much better position to deliver on its purposes. We have issued the new trustees with advice and guidance, including in relation to its international activities, so the charity is managed in line with the law and our regulatory expectations into the future.”
Care4Calais had attracted criticism from right wing politicians and media over its legal work to support asylum seekers. This work had including issuing judicial review proceedings to challenge the UK government’s controversial migration agreement with Rwanda.
The Commission has backed the charity’s work to challenge the government saying its decision around the action “was properly made, adequately documented, and was within the range of reasonable decisions open to the trustees of this charity. The activity itself served to further the charity’s objects, and the inquiry determined it was in line with the Commission’s guidance on political campaigning”.
Fraser added: “I am very aware that this charity’s work has generated attention and controversy. We will not shy away from examining concerns raised about any charity and will take strong action where necessary.
“However, as a fair, balanced and independent regulator we will not be influenced by political debates, nor should we stop charities from furthering their purposes in line with the law set down by Parliament.
“It is for the Commission to assess whether trustees are meeting their responsibilities – and that is what we have done.”
Care4Calais says that its new board has already “overhauled our governance structures, improved financial controls, and enhanced our decision-making processes”.
“The Charity Commission Inquiry provided us with an invaluable opportunity to critically assess our practices, identify areas for improvement and overhaul our governance,” said the charity’s chief executive Steve Smith.
“We now have an entirely new board of trustees who all acknowledge that the growth in our humanitarian work since 2015 vastly outpaced the development of the charity's governance structures.
“As a charity dedicated to helping those in need, our new trustees have taken the criticisms of previous governance shortcomings seriously, and are dedicated to learning from the past, embracing change, and making Care4Calais a symbol of hope and compassion.”
Smith, who is a former Army colonel and was previously CEO of the International Refugee Trust, added: “Despite the challenges of the Inquiry, our commitment to support refugees never wavered. I am eternally grateful to all our volunteers and staff who kept our humanitarian work going throughout this period, enabling the charity to continue growing.
“We welcome the conclusion of the Inquiry and the opportunity that brings to mould this important charity into a new and forward-looking organisation that puts refugees front and centre of our work.”