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Charity regulator publishes statutory inquiry report into Emergency Medical Services

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, has published a statutory inquiry report into the charity Emergency Medical Services. 

The Commission’s statutory inquiry, which opened on 18 February 2014 and closed on 18 December 2014, was focused on addressing concerns with the governance and management of the charity.

The inquiry report provides a full statement of the results of the inquiry and is available in the Regulatory decisions section of the Commission's website by clicking here.

Based at Rainey Street in Magherafelt, Emergency Medical Services’ principal activity was the provision of first aid training to volunteers who provided cover at public events such as parades, festivals and sporting events, in the Magherafelt and Cookstown areas.

The charity, which maintained two ambulances and a range of medical equipment, was funded through street collections and other fundraising activities, monies received for the provision of event cover and grants.

The charity first came to the attention of the Commission on receipt of a concern, which alleged there was no clear delineation between Emergency Medical Services and a business sharing the charity’s premises.

On looking into the issue, the Commission considered there were serious governance failures and a risk that the charity’s assets were being used to supplement and support the private business, which shared its address.

As a result of the failure of the charity’s trustees to take remedial action to address the issues, the Commission’s regulatory investigation was escalated to a statutory inquiry in February 2014.

Following further work by the Commission to resolve the issues and encourage the charity to take action by either ending the ongoing conflict of interest or closing the charity, members of Emergency Medical Services decided to close the charity. The charity’s assets were subsequently dispersed to benefit similar charitable activities under supervision of the Commission and the charity was dissolved in November 2014.

Having completed its inquiry, the Commission has concluded that while the charity, Emergency Medical Services, offered individuals an opportunity to gain valuable experience through volunteering in the healthcare sector, the charitable outcomes were incidental to the significant private benefit provided to a commercial business.

The Commission has shared it findings with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Land and Property Services, to allow those organisations to take any action they see fit in relation to the case.

Myles McKeown, Head of Enquiries and Compliance at the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, said: 

“This inquiry is a reminder to all charity trustees of the responsible and trustworthy role they hold as leaders of their charity. People put a lot of faith and confidence into charities and it is imperative that trustees return that good faith by putting the interests of the charity before that that of their own or any other person or business interests.

“It is vital that charities have clear, written procedures in place to manage any potential conflicts of interest that may arise. It is the duty of all trustees, acting collectively, to ensure they have taken reasonable steps to manage conflicts and ensure any private benefits which occur are incidental only. 

“The public too has a role to play in holding charities to account – don’t be afraid to ask questions about where the money you donate to a charity goes and if it is being used to further the charity’s purposes.

“An effective charity is one which follows good practice, is accountable to the public and, with compulsory charity registration and annual reporting requirements now live in Northern Ireland, acts in accordance with the law. 

“As this case highlights, charities which are not following the correct practices may find they are soon coming under the scrutiny of the Charity Commission.” 

Ends

For more information please contact Shirley Kernan, Charity Commission for Northern Ireland Communications Officer, on telephone: 028 3832 0169, mobile: 07827338978 or email: shirley.kernan@charitycommissionni.org.uk 

Notes to editors

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland.

The Commission has statutory objectives to ensure trustees comply with their legal obligations in managing charities, and to increase public trust and confidence in charities. This includes a statutory function to identify and investigate apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities, and to take remedial or protective action.