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The Charity Commission and the CVT

28 February 2015

The Charity Commission is the regulator of charities in the UK. They received numerous complaints about the Camphill Village Trust (CVT) over the recent years, some of which they did and some of which they declined to investigate. They also made certain statements that contradict claims made by the CVT. In summary, the Charity Commission 

  • Has requested that the charity addresses potential conflicts of interest and advised that there should be a majority of independent trustees vs co-worker trustees on the Charity’s governing board.
  • Has not said or found that co-worker costs were excessive.
  • Has reminded trustees that co-worker benefits from charitable activity must be incidental and that the charity needs to be able to demonstrate this is the case. Regarding the size of benefit they suggested as a guidance an equivalent to an employee’s earnings, although this was for trustees to decide.
  • Required that people working in the charity needed to comply with accepted safeguarding procedures.
  • Has not advised CVT that co-workers are employees.
  • Has declined to investigate the CVT for breaches of its Objects as alleged in a legal opinion by a leading charity lawyer, stating that it could not judge on matters of doctrine and ethos whilst also stating that they were satisfied CVT had considered these adequately. The Commission advised that this matter was for the High Court to decide.
  • Has declined to investigate the allegation that CVT gerrymandered the voting membership list to produce a majority of members that support its reform plans.

 

Charity Commission investigates CVT

In 2012, after an anonymous whistleblowing letter about a Co-worker in the Croft he described as ‘living in luxury’. As a part of their investigation, an independent accountant found that Co-worker costs were not excessive but within budget, even though it could not be ruled out that an individual within the community received excessive benefits. The Commission also reminded trustees of the rule that benefits for people (other than the charity’s beneficiaries) needed to be incidental and reasonable, although they did not prescribe how much that would be in practice as “financial support for Co-workers is entirely the prerogative of the Trustees.”

They also advised that there should be a majority of independent trustees (vs Co-worker trustees) on the governing board. This proposal was put to the charity’s membership in the form of two resolutions that did not pass the vote in the Annual General Meeting of 2012. However, they were passed on the next vote a month later after members received the following:

“You voted against the one, or both, of the special resolutions at the last General Meeting. This letter is therefore formal notice that your removal from Membership will be considered at the Trustees meeting unless you have returned a properly completed proxy form within the required time period supporting or abstaining from both the special resolutions.”

Instead of achieving an appropriate balance to address potential conflicts of interest, there is now not a single Camphill Co-worker on the board where all are now independent. This was never the intention or a requirement of the Charity Commission. Yet, we now have a group of trustees and a senior management team with barely an understanding of and sympathy for the role of Co-workers in the Camphill Village Trust.

The Charity Commission has published this part of their involvement with CVT in a report in February 2014.

 

Charity Commission declines to investigate CVT

In 2013, the Botton Village Parent Group, and in 2014, the Delrow Group of Parents made two substantial complaints about CVT Trustees and their restructuring plans, in addition to numerous similar complaints by other parents, Action for Botton and members of the public. All were concerned that the changes being implemented by CVT were against the charity’s founding principles and intentions and constituted a breach of its Objects and Powers as laid out in its Memorandum and Articles, which are not only morally but also legally binding:

Objects: “in accordance with the principles of Dr Rudolf Steiner (as summarised in the appendix) … particularly (without limitation) by the establishment and maintenance of communities … or other types of social and/or educational community, in which beneficiaries live and/or work and/or to which they otherwise resort, in community with persons providing support.

Powers: “recruit and appoint community members to act as Co-workers for the benefit of beneficiaries and provide such Co-workers and their dependants with accommodation, food and support to meet their other personal and family needs, as the Trustees shall from time to time determine, in accordance with the principles of Dr Rudolf Steiner (as summarised in the Appendix to this Memorandum)

Rudolf Steiner:Social life in Camphill Communities is based upon a threefold arrangement reflecting the recognition of the human being as comprising body, soul and spirit. This arrangement is expressed in the exercise of freedom in the spiritual/cultural domain; the safeguarding of equality in the realm of rights and responsibilities; and the practice of brotherliness in the economic realm. By application of these principles Community members are bound together by will and personal commitment, not by legal constructs, meaning, for beneficiaries, any form of compulsion and for Co-workers the rights and obligations of contract.

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The complaints also included the concern that CVT was gerrymandering the membership list, and concerns about governance, financial and reputational issues. The parents’ concerns were well documented and evidenced, yet the Commission repeatedly declined to investigate and rule on these, even when backed up with a substantial legal opinion by the country’s leading charity lawyer Hubert Picarda QC that could not be clearer that trustees were in breach of trust and the charity’s founding document. 

The Commission also wrote that it did not advice CVT that Co-workers were or should be employees, which is worth pointing out as CVT’s CEO Huw John repeatedly claimed in public that the Charity Commission said that Co-workers must become employees and that it was the law. In other words, CVT effectively lied to the public about their justification for their controversial changes.