Trustee agrees to four-year ban after using charity’s Facebook account to criticise government

A trustee who used her charity’s social media account to criticise the government has agreed not to be involved in running any charity for the next four years.

The decision follows a Charity Commission inquiry into the conduct of Ellie Waugh, the founder of homelessness charity Humanity Torbay, which provided drop-in community services. This investigation focused on concerns raised around “the political nature” of the charity’s social media content.

The regulator issued advice to Waugh after being alerted to “several posts on a Facebook page issued by the charity, which criticised the current government”.

However, this continued after the warnings were issued.

“The Commission’s advice made it clear that the trustees should ensure that when senior staff speak publicly on behalf of the charity that those statements further the charity’s objects and are in accordance with the Commission’s guidance about political campaigning and activity,” said the regulator.

“When senior staff express their own personal political views publicly, it should be very clear that those views were not the views of the charity, so as to not risk damaging the charity’s reputation.

"Despite assurances being received from the trustees, posts of a political nature continued to be placed by the founder on the Facebook page used by the charity.|"

It added that “limited attempts” were made by another trustee to remove the posts, but these failed as the Facebook page has been set up by Waugh.

The regulator opened a compliance case into the charity in 2019 over the social media posting but this was escalated to a statutory inquiry a year later after the political posts continued.

Shortly after the inquiry was launched Waugh announced she was leaving the charity.

Trustees then agreed to close the charity due to the adverse social media attention and a fall in funding amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite leaving the charity Waugh’s political posting continued on the charity’s website, which she changed to a new name Humanity UK.

“However, the charity’s name and registration number remained on the Facebook page, giving the public the impression that the charity had merely changed its name,” said the regulator.

The Facebook page was changed once again by Waugh in February 2021 to the new title of Poverty Watch UK. All the charity’s details had been removed this time and by March last year the charity had been removed from the Commission’s register.

After admitting posting the political content Waugh has accepted a voluntary undertaking not to be a trustee or work for a charity in England and Wales for four years.

“The Commission’s intervention in this case sends a strong message that charities should not be misused as a vehicle to express an individual’s political views,” said the Commission’s head of investigations Amy Spiller.

“Charities’ independence from party politics is not just required by the law, it is also essential in upholding public trust and confidence in charities.”
Financial concerns

The Charity Commission said that further concerns were identified around the finances and governance of the charity.

Concerns included a failure to keep records of donations received, retaining but not depositing cash in the charity’s bank account.

Most of the charity’s spending was through retained cash or cash withdrawals and “it is not clear who at the charity reviewed and authorised this expenditure”.

“This evidence strongly suggests that the trustees did not maintain appropriate financial controls for the charity and is considered to be misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity by the trustees,” added the regulator.

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