A CHARITY regulator has officially opened an investigation into an under-fire community group in Hartlepool.
The Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, has opened an inquiry into Manor Residents’ Association after concerns about the way it is being run.
The regulator first contacted the trustees in May this year after the result of an employment tribunal ruling against the charity raised regulatory issues.
The Charity Commission has been working with the charity since then, but says the trustees have been unable to allay its concerns.
As part of the inquiry, the Commission has acted to restrict the charity’s bank accounts and the transactions it may enter so the trustees cannot make payments from the accounts or dispose of property without the consent of the Commission.
The Kilmarnock Road-based charity provides and promotes activities to benefit the residents of the Owton Manor area of Hartlepool, and works in partnership with local agencies and the council with the aim of promoting education and improving the lives of residents.
A Charity Commission statement outlined the purpose of the inquiry is to examine “various regulatory concerns” including:
l The apparent significant risk to, and potential loss of, the charity’s funds or other property;
l Whether, and to what extent, there was mismanagement or misconduct on the part of the trustees, in particular, financial mismanagement and/or serious governance failures;
l Whether, and to what extent, the trustees have discharged their legal duties as charity trustees.
The Commission has the power to “remove any trustee, charity trustee, officer, agent or employee of the charity who has been responsible for or privy to misconduct or mismanagement in the charity or has contributed to it or allowed it to go on”.
The inquiry is the latest in a long line of blows for the charity.
Earlier this month, manager and former councillor Angie Wilcox and her 26-year-old daughter Sarah Stead were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to steal and false accounting and both were released on bail.
The arrests came less than a month after Cleveland Police’s Economic Crime Unit launched an investigation into complaints of financial irregularities at Manor Residents’ Association.
That came after an audit review carried out by Hartlepool Borough Council led to officials raising a number of “issues” and referring them to the police.
The audit review raised concerns about administrative procedures surrounding payroll, payslips, end of year records and under and over payment of tax letters and the council’s review concluded “no assurances” could be given to the procedures in place to manage council funds.
That followed four employment tribunal cases against the charity in Middlesbrough County Court, all of which they lost.
Manor Residents’ Association was ordered to pay almost £9,000 to former cleaner Lynda Gooding, of Forfar Road, who wasn’t paid the national minimum wage by the charity.
Meanwhile, Carl Williams, Sharon Henderson and Sue Harriman also won employment tribunal cases against the charity - totalling more than £13,000.
Once the Charity Commission’s inquiry is finished, a report will be published detailing what issues the inquiry looked at, what actions were taken and what the outcomes were. No-one from Manor Residents’ Association was available for comment.