What lessons can we learn from Wick House?
The Charity Commission has published findings from its inquiry into Bristol Sheltered Accommodation & Support Ltd.
The Commission found that a number of trustees at the charity were responsible for misconduct and mismanagement at the charity. Notably, five residents have died at the charity’s Wick House hostel since 2014 – although a recent inquest into the death of one of the residents heard in November 2018 did not find the charity responsible.
In its report, the Charity Commission states that its findings have governance implications for the wider sector.
In summary, charities that provide sheltered accommodation should be aware of three key things:
- Responsibility for reporting serious incidents ultimately rests with the charity’s trustees – even if handling them is delegated. Find out how to report a serious incident here.
- Trustees must step back from and avoid any situations which lead to conflicts of interest or conflicts of loyalty and avoid them affecting decision making. Find out more about avoiding conflicts of interest here.
- They should declare, record and appropriately manage conflicts that can’t be avoided. Find out how to record a conflict of interest here.
Report serious issues
The Charity Commission requires charities to report serious incidents. If a serious incident takes place within a charity, it is important that there is prompt, full and frank disclosure to the Commission.
A serious incident is an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:
- Harm to a charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with a charity through its work
- Loss of a charity’s money or assets
- Damage to a charity’s property
- Harm to a charity’s work or reputation
The responsibility for reporting serious incidents rests with the charity’s trustees. In practice, this may be delegated to someone else within the charity, such as an employee or the charity’s professional advisers.
However, all trustees bear ultimate responsibility for ensuring their charity makes a report, and does so in a timely manner. If the trustees decide not to make a report about something serious that has happened in their charity and the Commission later becomes involved, the trustees will need to be able to explain why they decided not to report it at the time.
Avoid conflicts of interest
A conflict of interest is any situation in which a trustee’s actual or perceived personal interest or loyalty could, or could be seen to, prevent them from making a decision in the best interests of the charity. Trustees should avoid conflicts of interest or conflicts of loyalty or in circumstances in which they cannot be avoided, declare, record and appropriately manage the conflicts in the best interests of their charity. Trustees must prevent any conflict of interest or loyalty from affecting the decision making.
Trustees must actively manage any conflicts of interest and conflicts of loyalty. They should step back from or avoid any situation where a conflict exists or is likely to arise. If it is clear the conflict cannot be adequately managed, even if this means, for example, that additional disinterested trustees are appointed or that the affected trustees resign. It is vital that trustees avoid becoming involved in situations in which their personal interests or loyalties may be seen to conflict with their duties as trustees.
The Commission recognises that it is inevitable that conflicts of interest and conflicts of loyalty will occur. The issue is not the integrity of the trustee concerned, but the management of any potential to profit from a person’s position as a trustee, or for a trustee to be influenced by conflicting loyalties. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest or loyalty can damage the public’s trust and confidence in a charity, so conflicts need to be managed carefully.
Wider concerns about supported housing
The Commission is not the regulator for specialist or professional care or services provided by any charity. It says its investigations into Bristol Sheltered Accommodation and Support have brought to light wider issues around the regulation of supported housing which limit the Commission’s ability to hold charities providing such accommodation to account.
Some providers of supported accommodation are registered charities, but not all. Many providers offer a safe, stable and supportive place for vulnerable individuals. Indeed, such provision can be a life line for many vulnerable people. However, the case of Wick House is not the only example the Commission has seen where questions have been raised about the support provided to some residents.
Some providers of supported accommodation are registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), however Bristol Sheltered Accommodation wasn’t. According to the CQC an organisation should be registered if it provides:
Physical assistance given to, and/or prompting and supervision of, a person in connection with:
- Eating or drinking
- Washing or bathing
- Oral care, or
- The care of skin, hair and nails
The Charity Commission says that the lack of a regulatory framework setting out expectations of the quality of support provided in such settings, including those that have charitable status, impacts on the Commission’s ability to hold trustees to account in that regard.
It is concerned that this, in turn, may mean some charities are not meeting the expectations of beneficiaries, or the public.
It is planning to share its concerns with a number of relevant parties, including the Chairs of two Parliamentary Committees and officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Have your say
We’d like to hear what you think about governance issues surrounding sheltered accommodation, as well as the lack of regulatory framework.