Unregistered charities on Universal Jobmatch: why won’t the Charity Commission act?

  1. It’s the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period of increased charitable giving, and again the Charity Commission publicises its advice to donate to registered charities only. So it’s concerning that a new unregistered charity recently advertised for professional charity fundraisers on the government’s Universal Jobmatch website. What’s worse, the ad was avoidable. It wouldn’t have appeared if the Charity Commission had acted earlier when I brought to its attention a charity-related scam on Universal Jobmatch. The commission’s failure here is more than a failure in public protection. If the Charity Commission really is the independent regulator of charities it describes itself as, it should be prepared to criticise publicly another arm of government when in the public interest, as here. This failure calls into question the independence of the Charity Commission.
  2. New self-proclaimed charity One Good Act recently advertised for professional charity fundraisers on the government’s Universal Jobmatch website (screen shots in Figure 1). Based in Blackpool, it claims to be a charity helping “homeless families back on their feet over the winter holiday period”. Yet there is no charity of that name on the commission’s public register of charities. The ad fails to specify a registered charity number, too.
    Figure 1A. One Good Act charity fundraiser job ad at 9 February 2016 (top)

    Figure 1A. One Good Act charity fundraiser job ad at 9 February 2016 (top)

    Figure 1B. One Good Act charity fundraiser job ad at 9 February 2016 (bottom)

    Figure 1B. One Good Act charity fundraiser job ad at 9 February 2016 (bottom)

  3. This blog has exclusively exposed several fake military charities from Blackpool, all unregistered, whose representatives travel the UK, fraudulently collecting money from the public: see the notorious Army of Heroes (my 12 December 2014 post) and Our Brave Heroes (my 26 October 2015 post), for example. Heroes and the Fallen is another (my 12 December 2015 post).
  4. The laughable One Good Act website, address in the job ad, doesn’t show a registered charity number either. Jason Mackinnon is “CEO and directoir [sic]” of One Good Act, according to the website (screen shot in Figure 2). The contact details are inadequate: the only way to contact the charity is via an online form (screen shot in Figure 3). There’s no postal address, no phone number; not even an email address. I asked Mr Mackinnon via the online form for the registered charity number, explaining I couldn’t see it on the website.
    Figure 2. Jason Mackinnon, “CEO and directoir [sic]” of One Good Act at 23 February 2016

    Figure 2. Jason Mackinnon, “CEO and directoir [sic]” of One Good Act at 23 February 2016

    Figure 3. One Good Act contact form at 23 February 2016

    Figure 3. One Good Act contact form at 23 February 2016

  5. In his same-day response from the unusual email address in the job ad, he wrote: “The reason I have no charity number showing is because I am still in the process of applying for charity status.” Mr Mackinnon added that he hadn’t managed “to find” trustees for his new charity: “Without these people I am not able to register until I have raised £50 000 per year, at which point it is mandatory to register.”
  6. I replied that the last statement is false. In fact, charities with an income over £5 000 per year must register with the Charity Commission (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-set-up-a-charity-cc21a). I therefore asked why he’d claimed that the requisite income for registration is £50 000 per year. There were two further issues I raised in the same email. First, I told Mr Mackinnon I was interested in his charity and would like to find out more. As he knew, I said, anyone setting up a charity must write a governing document (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-set-up-a-charity-cc21a). I requested he email me One Good Act’s governing document. Second, I enquired whether his charity is recognised as charitable by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for tax purposes (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-set-up-a-charity-cc21a). One way an unregistered charity can show it’s a legitimate organisation is by registering as a charity with HMRC.
  7. The governing document he sent was dated 25 January 2016 – only days before the ad was posted on Universal Jobmatch, then (Figure 1) – and made me more suspicious for two reasons. First, it revealed that the structure for the charity is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), in particular a foundation CIO. There is no minimum income threshold to register a CIO. The Charity Commission states: “If your charity is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) you must apply to register it whatever its income.” (see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-set-up-a-charity-cc21a) In other words, the income is irrelevant, despite what Mr Mackinnon had written before. Second, the governing document listed the “first trustees” – four named people including Mr Mackinnon.
  8. Asked to explain what had happened to the first trustees, he said that the other three had “pulled out”. I asked Mr Mackinnon three times in emails when the three had withdrawn. He wouldn’t answer, saying: “When and why the previous trustees decided they could not be trustees is a private matter due to personal reasons.” But I’d never requested reasons why, only when.
  9. Despite repeated requests, he wouldn’t tell me what efforts he was allegedly making to recruit replacements either. Silence too on the question: “Is there any independent evidence of your attempts to recruit trustees? Ads, for example.”
  10. As to getting recognition from HMRC for his charity, Mr Mackinnon said he hadn’t applied to HMRC to be recognised as a charity for tax purposes.
  11. Some of the answers I received from Mr Mackinnon were confused and unconvincing; others evasive. The website is risible. But most importantly, One Good Act isn’t registered with the Charity Commission as a charity. And the commission repeatedly advises the public to donate to registered charities only.
  12. Nevertheless the ad appeared on the government website because the Charity Commission had failed to act earlier.
  13. Let me explain. In September 2015, I exposed a dissolved company advertising for professional charity fundraisers on Universal Jobmatch (see my 28 September 2015 post). At the time I brought the scam and other charity-related problems on the site to the attention of the Charity Commission. I suggested the commission should act in the public interest by calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to improve its processes on Universal Jobmatch around professional fundraisers and any other employers making claims about charities. For a start, I said, these ads must both name the charities and provide registered charity numbers. The commission refused to act, saying it was a matter for DWP only.
  14. As regulator, the Charity Commission has a responsibility to uphold trust and confidence in charities. As part of this, the commission regularly runs its “safer giving” campaign, particularly at times of increased charitable giving including Ramadan, Christmas, and after natural disasters. Here is the press release for its current Ramadan campaign, for example: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/regulator-highlights-advice-on-giving-safely-during-ramadan. (published 6 June 2016) This ongoing campaign is important for public protection. Similarly, it’s public protection that motivates my proposal for the commission to call on DWP to improve its processes on Universal Jobmatch around professional fundraisers and any other employers making claims about charities.
  15. The commission’s first tip on “safer giving” is: “Before giving, check the charity’s name and registration number against the online charity search tool.” So it’s clearly appropriate for the commission to call on DWP to require that ads for charity-related jobs name the charities and provide registered charity numbers. Mandatory charity names and registered charity numbers on Universal Jobmatch would prevent job-seekers being exposed to ads from unregistered charities such as One Good Act. They would also help protect everyone – not just job-seekers – from potential and actual charity scams.
  16. In 2014, the Labour MP Frank Field uncovered a series of fake, repeat or fraudulent jobs ads on Universal Jobmatch (for a review, see my 28 September 2015 post). In February this year, Mr Field, who is chair of the commons Work and Pensions committee, highlighted a new set of inappropriate jobs ads on the site: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dwps-universal-jobmatch-site-advertising-7404134. The potential and actual charity-related scams I’ve discovered on Universal Jobmatch can be added to Mr Field’s list of unacceptable ads.
  17. There’s a final concern. The commission’s failure here is more than a failure in public protection. If the Charity Commission really is the independent regulator of charities it describes itself as, it should be prepared to criticise publicly another arm of government when in the public interest, as here. This failure calls into question the independence of the Charity Commission.
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