Presidents Club trustees breached duties and failed women, regulator finds

Written by Lauren Weymouth

There were ‘significant failures’ at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust and its trustees were in breach of a number of key charity law duties, a new Charity Commission report has found.

Published today, the report reveals the findings of an investigation into the charity, which was opened in January 2018 after reports of sexual harassment at the Presidents Club gala dinner earlier this year.

The gala dinner was an all-male event, staffed by female-only staff, who were subject to instructions on their appearance, including that they wear ‘smart, sexy, shoes’. The women employed to work as hostesses at the event were also subjected to harassment and inappropriate behaviour by male guests.

The Commission’s inquiry concluded the trustees of the charity failed to fully recognise or address risks to the reputation of the charity and put in place clear procedures and policies to deal with the levels of harassment and improper behaviour at the event.

Furthermore, the regulator’s CEO, Helen Stephenson said the trustees thought “insufficiently” about the welfare of the women hired to work at their charity’s event, which was in “stark contrast” to the measures they took to protect the privacy of the guests.

“It is not the Commission’s role to determine whether any of the women working on the night were subjected to harassment or abuse. What we can say is that the trustees’ attitude towards their welfare in the name of charity fell short of what would be expected in the 21st century.”

According to the report, the trustees breached charity law duties including:

• As a result of the lack of written contracts with suppliers, absence of oversight and a lack of awareness of the relevant regulatory guidance, the Commission found that the trustees did not act with reasonable care and skill.

• The trustees failed to comply with their legal duty to manage charity resources responsibly, specifically avoiding exposing the charity’s assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risk.

Stephenson said the report should serve as a warning to others that raising funds for charity does not absolve trustees of their legal duties or moral responsibilities.

“Quite the reverse, the manner in which they are raised is just as important. The public expect the highest standards of conduct from registered charities. When a charity fails to meet those standards, it can risk the very reason it was set up in the first place,” she said.

Stephenson added that charities and their fundraising events should be places where people are “protected from harm”, and where people are “treated with respect and care”.

“We have no evidence that the trustees acted in bad faith. But they demonstrated poor judgment, and a lack of awareness of the important legal duties and responsibilities the law places on trustees.”

Following the media reports, the trustees of the charity announced that they were in the process of winding up the charity.

The Commission has issued the trustees with formal regulatory advice under section 15(2) of the Charities Act 2011 to ensure future compliance.

It has also agreed a regulatory action plan with the trustees in order to gather in as much of the money raised at the event as possible.

The trustees will now work with the Charity Commission to ensure the charity is wound up in an orderly manner and that remaining funds reach the causes for which they were intended. Future events will no longer take place upon the winding up of the charity.

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