Charity’s money used for holidays, handbags and haircuts, says regulator

Three former trustees at a special educational needs school have agreed not to sit on charity boards for eight-years after the Charity Commission found “multiple instances” of misconduct and financial mismanagement.

This included charity money being used for buying holidays, hairdresser appointments, designer handbags and concert tickets.

The three trustees sat on the board of Hope House School, an independent special needs schools in Newark, for 25 pupils as young as five with conditions including autism and dyspraxia.

The concerns centre on spending by one of the trustees and payments made to her husband.

Known as ‘trustee A’, she was the “self-appointed principal in a voluntary capacity” of the school for six years, according to the regulator.

It emerged that payments had been made to her husband for “expenditure including hairdressing appointments, concerts, and weekend trips away”.

The inquiry had been launched after complaints that charity money had been spent by trustee A on “designer handbags and holidays to New York and Belgium”.

The regulator also found payments were made to trustee A’s husband for the repayment of a loan of £121,000, allegedly made by him to the charity between 2003 and 2009. However, the Commission “found very few supporting historical records to evidence that a loan had been made”.

Trustee A stopped being a trustee at the charity in 2019.

Meanwhile, two other trustees, known as ‘trustees B and C’ failed to “exercise sufficient oversight and control over the day-to-day management and administration of the charity”.

These trustees were found to be “over reliant” on trustee A and “risked the future of the charity” over failures around the lease on the school site, which was allowed to expire

The rent and utility bills of a flat for a former beneficiary of the charity were also made. This was “not in furtherance of the charity’s objects, and constituted a misapplication of charity funds”, found the regulator.

Trustees also failed to tackle concerns made by education watchdog Ofsted into issues around safeguarding, risk assessments and health and safety.

All three trustees have entered into a voluntary agreement not to sit on charity boards for at least eight years.

“Cases like this demonstrate the importance of good governance, robust internal financial controls and responsible trustee oversight, said Charity Commission head of investigations Amy Spiller.

“Trustee A abused their position and other trustees’ neglect of their duties allowed this misconduct to continue unchecked, to the detriment of the charity and its beneficiaries.

“The public expects trustees to deliver the charity’s objects and ensure it makes a tangible and positive impact in the community. It is disappointing that these trustees did not take that duty and their responsibilities seriously.”

School welcomes report

Hope House School’s interim headteacher Joanne Keirnan said the regulator’s report “allows the new school leadership to move the school forward”.

“We the new trustees welcome the publication of the Charity Commission report which has clarified the school's past, and actions undertaken by the previous trustees,” she said.

“We are currently investing in projects which will improve the mental health, wellbeing, and learning experiences of our fantastic pupils. We would like to thank our staff, parents, local authority colleagues, and the local community for their continued support, as we make Hope House School the very best it can be.”

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