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(Updated 30/8/01)

Animal 'rescue' and the charities commission:
Dogs must not be exploited



HAVING AN interest in animal rescues, I feel very concerned that once Charity status has been acquired that some charities feel they are above charity law. The charity commission must take some responsibility by allowing charity status to be too easily obtained. They do not make adequate effort to check that Charities registered with them are abiding by Charity Law or their own governing document - particularly those involved in the rescue of dogs. Even when anomalies are pointed out to the Charities Commission, it appears to me they will go to great length to protect the name of the charity concerned.

There are too many registered animal charities operated by individuals or man and wife/partner teams, who may appoint themselves as Chairman and Trustee without ensuring that they have independent Trustees in place to oversee the running of the rescue. When the minimal number of Trustees are pointed, meetings are irregular or not held at all. Even when a Chairman or Trustees come to the end of their term in office, no election is held and some continue operating with neither in place. One operated with just one person who was Chairman, Trustee and Secretary and even changed the charity name without advising the Charities Commission of their intention.

There is also one other point that seems common practice, the extreme late return of a Charities annual account. One charity had not returned its accounts for the year ending 1999. The Charity Commission allows a charity 10 months over the end of its financial year to complete accounts. But there can be no excuse for not returning accounts 20 months after the end of their financial year. Which in effect has meant members of the public were not able to view the accounts for this Charity for the year ending 1999 until almost two years later, this is unacceptable and inexcusable.

No action is taken by the Charities Commission to acquire the accounts, until their attention was drawn on the matter.

Yet, until last year, this charity still operated a charity shop and owned rescue kennels that have since closed but continue to take in dogs and puppies for re-homing in one shop and have since opened another. The public still gives freely to the charity, purchasing goods from their shops and continues to pay a high price for the dogs that are up for re-homing. Money is given freely by the public, but the public does not seem to question where the money is going or for what it is being used.

Others produce accounts that are totally unacceptable in format, giving little details of expenditure or incoming money. This is particularly noticeable when a charity operates charity shops and rescues dogs and cats. The incoming funds are often combined on the accounts making it impossible to separate the accumulated monies. The Charities Commission should insist that charities list separately all sources of income. Even when governing documents state that accounts must be audited, and a charity fails on this point, the Charities Commission has been known to take no action, other than ask the Charity to abide by its rules the following year.

Another well known charity was one of the first rescues to become involved in the transportation of impounded dogs from Wales to England. Their efforts were held in high esteem as an example to others.

However, looking at their accounts, questions need to be asked, as some details were misleading. For the year ending 1999 under Sales and Adoptions is a figure of almost 8,000 - the monies raised for the adoption and sales of dogs and cats. A trustee of the Charity and the Charities Accountant originally when asked, confirmed the figure as being correct, (this was later denied by the same Trustee, who said the months for the sale of dogs were included in the donation figures). However, the Accountant stated that 'the Charity had a new book-keeper who was able to pull figures out to confirm this'

Responsibility

The next question asked was 'were any monies from the sales of dogs and cats included in the top figure listed on the accounts as Donations?' A figure of over 169,000. He confirmed that there were not. Surely both the Accountant and Trustee have the responsibility to release accurate information to the public.

The figure of almost 8,000 equates to less than two dogs per week being re-homed from the rescue without counting the cats. Over the same accounting period, the rescue paid over 88,500 in wages for its staff. They said an Office Manager, Site Manager and several full time assistant staff. Why should a rescue pay such a large sum in wages and so many staff when, according to their figures they had so few dogs or cats to be taken care of? The vets bill over the same period of time was 40,000.

The charity's web site over the same period proudly announced 'we have around 70 dogs arriving each week'. The chairman of the charity vehemently denied this figure was placed on the web site even though he had seen a copy. He stated that the rescue re-homed 70 dogs per month and that approximately 800 dogs went through the rescue books over that period. Maybe this would not have been so important to mention had their accounts matched the figures of dogs, not to mention the cats, but they didn't appear to.

The green belt land on which the Charity had become established as a rescue for dogs, cats and horses was purchased by the founder of the Charity. (The Charity also rented an adjacent six acres of land, this was later purchased by the charity for just over 12,000). Temporary planning permission had been granted for the buildings sited on this land which consisted of the rescue until 1991. Later when she applied to the District council, for permanent planning permission for the retention of a mobile home, a horse field shelter, cattery, isolation unit, shed, car parking area, roadway and compound, the Council refused. The matter was taken to appeal to the Secretary of State.

Planning permission was granted, at which time the Planning Inspector made a very important statement, he said that 'he would grant the appeal but that permission should be restricted to the Charity rather than the founder personally'. He also said that 'the area should always remain as a Rescue and should not revert to a business enterprise'. He also stated that 'the use permitted shall be carried on only by the rescue or by an equivalent charity with similar registered aims. There should at any one time only be 27 adult dogs at the rescue'.

Later, on this six acres of land were erected most of the buildings which became known as the Rescue, such as kennels, cattery, treatment room and sand school. Built with donated money, equipment and direct labour of local supporters. However, the financial upkeep and depreciation of these building were listed each year on the Charities accounts, giving the impression that the buildings all belonged to the Charity itself - as assets of the Charity. In reality this was far from the truth. In 1998 the charities founder and Trustee decided that she would like to sell the land that she owned (this land accommodated all the buildings listed above which consisted of most of the rescue) to the charity.

In 1998 the land was valued and sold to the charity by the founder for a sum of 125,000. The charity could only manage to finance 60,000 itself, the rest 65,000 was borrowed from its founder to be paid back with an 8% interest charge.

At the time of the sale in August 1998 the land, without the buildings, would have a value of between 1,000 and 2,000 per acre depending on whether it was scrubland or good quality green belt land. The six acre plot therefore had an estimated value of roughly 12,000. At the time the founder should have acquired the Charity Commissioners prior consent before the sale took place, in order to ensure that the purchase was in the Charities interest and that the Charity was paying a fair price for the land. Later, after the sale had taken place, the Charities Commission instructed the District Valuer to provide an independent (after sale) valuation of the land purchased by the Charity.

The Valuation officer stated 'before I provided my Valuation I made enquiries as to whether there was any lease or agreement between the founder and the Charity concerning the building and services on the land. There does not appear to be any formal agreement to the contrary'

He went on to say 'when I made my inspection I also asked the Manager about the ownership of the buildings. He informed me that only one mobile home and some kennel fittings were owned by the Charity as at the date of the sale'. My Valuation therefore includes the value of most of the buildings and services on this site. There is a clause in the planning permission restricting the use of the land to an animal sanctuary or similar purpose'.

'However, when I made my inspection it was apparent that the site was being used intensively for the following purposes. Residential, 2 mobile homes, boarding of animals, equestrian, educational car parking - 12 vehicles. Given the scale and intensity of these used it is very unlikely that should the permitted Charitable use cease that the local planning authority would require the land to revert to purely agricultural occupation. It is more likely that they would seek to restrict the use of the site to only part of the above. This is how the planning system tends to operate and any non charitable purchaser of the land would have the right of appeal to the Secretary for the Environment'. He decided therefore 'that the sale was within normal market tolerances'.

If his estimation of the value of the land, taking into account all the rescue's buildings, should it at a later date be sold either as a whole or part site could become a business enterprise, such as boarding kennels? This is going against what the Planning Inspectorate said on appeal in 1992 'that the site must never become a business enterprise and must always remain a Charity Rescue'.

How can the Charities founder and Trustee purchase land with Charity funds, list it together with the buildings, as assets on the charities accounts. Then later, with Charity funds and public donated money, construct buildings but fail to place with buildings and land in the name of the Charity!

Oversight

The value of the land was enhanced by the planning permission granted in 1992 and the buildings built upon it with Charity donated money. As a result the founder has enjoyed an inappropriate benefit from the sale of the land when at a later date in 1998 she as a Trustee decided to sell the land together with the buildings to the charity. This in effect meant that the Charity had paid for the buildings twice, once to erect the building then to buy them back, with 8% interest paid to the founder from whom they had borrowed the 65,000. The legal position is that if buildings are constructed on land belonging to another party the value of these will revert to the owner of the land in the absence of any formal agreement.

Whether this was an oversight on behalf of the Trustees or it was the intention of those involved to benefit later, one will never know. The founder and beneficiary then emigrated with what could only be described as a gratuitous handshake. The Chairman, a Planning Consultant who acted as her agent in the original appeal resigned soon after as Chairman of the Charity.

I am sure the public's money in whatever form it was given to the charity should not have ultimately allowed an individual, a Trustee, to benefit. The Charities Commission has disregarded the fact that a Trustee has interlinked her personal property and activities with those of the Charity.Why did the Charities Commission not bring her to task?

Why did the Charities Commission not question why the Charity borrowed 65,000 at 8% interest from the land owner, founder and Trustee? They may have found a more favourable rate of interest by borrowing money from a financial institution, such as a Bank or Building Society.

Why did the Charities Commission not ensure and insist that during this period in question that the accounts were audited as a requirement of the Charity's own trust deed? This would have avoided the accounts to be questioned, particularly the details of the monies taken for the dogs and cats being re-homed. The figure of almost 8,000 was surely incorrect? If their web site was accurate, 70 dogs per week coming in, the 70 dogs must go out. Even if this figure is an exaggeration and is taken down to the amount of dogs the Chairman said were re-homed 800 per year, but did not include figures for the cats, this would have been more in the region of 90,000; even this is possibly a low estimation.

Why have a column on the Accounts for Sales and Adoptions of the animals then say the monies raised, when queried was correct and later deny it by saying the dogs re-homed where also listed in the Donations and Fundraising column on the accounts?

All this proves to me, is how easy it is for individuals who have the front to operate in the name of a Charity Registered Animal Rescue to use the word 'rescue' for their own financial benefit. Is this how low some individuals will sink? To use emotive words such as 'rescue' 'animal welfare' 'impounded dogs' 'strays' 'put to sleep' 'euthanasia' to induce financial support for their work, then when the time is right, to benefit personally?

This cannot be for what Charity status and animal rescue is meant to stand. To dupe people into believing they have a genuine concern for the animals' welfare and are raising funds on their behalf but instead have a hidden agenda. Doesn't the Charities Commission have any clout; is it so biased towards protecting the said Charity that is cannot see wrongdoing?

What is particularly noticeable, is that all the accounts mentioned involve rescues that take impounded dogs from Wales. Why? Is it because the dogs are so freely available, a cheap commodity? Most are already vaccinated by the Welsh Councils taxpayers, making it cheaper for the English rescues to take them. Do those involved in taking dogs think the vast numbers of dogs coming from Wales and resulting can make some money from surely not just a commodity for money laundering? This is a far cry from concern; compassion and animal welfare, if the only reason that some individuals become a rescue with Charity status is to enable them to control the finances to benefit themselves.

I am not anti-dog rescue, or charity status far from it, but I think it is so scandalous that people can hide behind their status and position in the name of the charity that they represent. To use the money they make from these unfortunate dogs, take donations for years from genuine concerned supporters of the charity and then when the time is right to benefit, by feathering their own nest.

It is time the Charities Commission altered the way they investigate their Charities by employing more staff to check that Charities are operating correctly. Instead of waiting until members of the public draw their attention to an area of concern. They pay too much attention to protecting the good name of a Charity and by doing so do not bring those to task that have acted in a disreputable way. This has to be wrong; they should look more closely at Charities and voluntary groups, particularly those involved with the rescue of impounded and unwanted dogs from Wales.