Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Charity Commissioners letter re: St. Stephen the Great

Here's the reply I had from the Charity Commissioners after enquiring about the various charities run by the new owners of SPCK bookshops. I've left out a couple of short paragraphs, but here are the relevant sections, my explanatory notes in blue:

"Thankyou for your letter about the above charities.

It may be useful if I explain concerns have been raised with the Charity Commission relating to the governance and internal financial controls at the Trust and the Company (explanation: there are 2 charities called 'St. Stephen the Great' registered with the CC, one is the Charitable Trust, the other is a trading company which runs the bookshops. Or at least used to)

We have contacted the trustees to clarify the situation with regard to some of the points raised. On the basis both of the inital concenrs raised with the Commission, and of the information provided by the charity in response, on 26 September 2008 we opened a formal inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993. Because this inquiry remains open and ongoing we will not be in a position to go into further detail at this time, but we would normally look to make a report available once the inquiry was concluded...

I note your concerns regarding the Annual Return and accounts for the Trust and the Company (no accounts submitted since March 2006) however these are not due until January 2009. It may be of interest to you that we do have processes in place to deal with charities which have an income of over £10,000 and who default on the submission of their accounts to the Commission.

With regard to the relationship between the ENC management companies and the Trust as well as the relationship with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) this is a matter for the Trustees of the Trust and the Company (i.e. there's no issue with assets being passed from SSG to ENC)."

A few thoughts:
- I've emailed the CC back because I'm very surprised that, with no accounts submitted since March 2006, nothing is due until January next year. In August '07 one of the SSG charities was closed down and reopened as a subsidiary of the other, I don't know if this evaded the need for accounts for another 12 months, but it's now nearly 20 months from the end of tax 2006-7. If I'd left it this long to get my tax affairs in order, I'd be in prison.

- the CC website says that you have 10 months to send in your accounts. SSG aren't listed as a defaulting charity (there are thousands of them!). It's basically an online naughty step, but its a very crowded one. The CC then send you lots of reminders and offer to help, and if accounts don't appear after 22 months, then you are removed from the register of charities. So it all depends on whether the little shimmy in August 07 has given SSG 12 months grace, otherwise they have 2 months to file 2006-7 accounts (the year they took ownership of the bookshops) or cease to be a charity.

- The launch of the inquiry after recieving a response from SSG. This suggests that SSG's response wasn't satisfactory. Oh to be a fly on the wall....

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