A married couple who held trustee roles at a dog rescue charity have been disqualified for living in the charity’s property rent-free and using charitable funds to pay for family holidays.
An investigation by the Charity Commission revealed the former trustees of the Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society had withdrawn £316,120 in cash from the charity’s bank account and were living for free in the charity’s property.
The charity, which operates in East Sussex and Hampshire and aims to care and support stray and unwanted dogs in these areas, is funded via legacies, donations and proceeds from two charity shops.
But an inquiry by the regulator revealed the couple had used the charity’s funds for personal purchases including a wood burner at the centrally-heated property and to pay for a holiday taken by one of the trustees and other family members.
Further funds could not be accounted for during the couple's trusteeship, including a dog re-homing fee of between £100 and £150.
The trustees also failed to file financial accounts and the annual report on time, with the years 2016 and 2017 outstanding.
The regulator's investigation further found the charity shops belonging to the charity were not maintained and the trustees were acting outside of their charity's governing document by paying for veterinary fees for dog owners. An alleged theft has also occurred but had not been reported to the police.
Issues at the charity were first raised in 2017, when an independent examiner found discrepancies in the charity's bookkeeping and alerted the Charity Commission to the problems.
The regulator engaged with the charity, but said the trustees failed respond to its queries, thus leading the Commission to open a statutory inquiry to assess matters further.
A new trustee board was appointed in November 2018 and the regulator said the charity is now 'operating effectively' and is 'fully compliant with its filing obligations'.
Both former trustees have been disqualified from acting as a charity trustee or trustee of any charity and/or from holding an office or employment with a senior management function in charities generally in England and Wales, for a period of seven years.
“Trustees are under an obligation to act in the best interests of their charity –by handling donations with care and stewarding funds towards the good cause they serve. The former trustees of this charity failed to deliver on this expectation – they were reckless with the charity’s money and used funds for their own personal expenses," Charity Commission head of investigations, Amy Spiller said.
"This almost cost the charity’s future and will have let down people who trusted this charity to help a cause they care about.
“Rightly, the trustees have been disqualified and new trustees have been appointed to ensure this charity is now placed to deliver on its purposes and thrive.”