The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, opened a statutory class inquiry – giving the commission access to a range of investigative, protective and remedial powers – into Royal Air Force mess charities on 26 May 2016.
There are 61 RAF mess charities based in the UK, with a further number based overseas. They are established to promote military efficiency, through the provision of amenities, facilities and services for service personnel.
The commission was notified by the managing trustee of 2 RAF mess charities (of both the Officers’ and the WO & SNCOs messes) of a fraud carried out by a contractor’s employee at RAF Honington; the full extent of the fraud was not known at that time. The contractor’s employee, who worked on behalf of the 2 mess charities, later pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position involving more than £72,000 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in May 2016.
The level of loss was significant for the 2 mess charities at RAF Honington, which have a combined annual income of approximately £225,000. The losses, which occurred over a period of at least 2 years, raise serious regulatory concerns. The inquiry will consider whether adequate steps were taken to safeguard the funds of the 2 mess charities.
In addition to the financial losses, the incident had a serious impact on the ability of the 2 mess charities to prepare, maintain and preserve accurate accounting records. As a result the RAF Honington mess charities did not fully comply with their legal obligations under the Charities Act 2011, including failing to file accounts with the commission for the last three years.
All RAF messes have standardised financial control systems and we therefore want to satisfy ourselves that similar problems have not arisen, and do not arise, in other RAF mess charities.
To do so we will enquire as to:
- whether, and to what extent, other losses have occurred at other messes
- if so, whether adequate steps were or are being taken to recover any such losses and the adequacy of serious incident reporting by the managing trustees of registered RAF mess charities
- the adequacy of the RAF mess charities’ control procedures and practices
It is the commission’s policy, after it has concluded an inquiry, to publish a report detailing what issues the inquiry looked at, what actions were undertaken as part of the inquiry and what the outcomes were. Reports of previous inquiries are available on GOV.UK.
Further information about registered RAF mess charities can be viewed using the commission’s online charity search tool.
Are you based at RAF Honington? Are you a serving or former member of HM Forces and have concerns over the charitable status of messes – or is this making a ‘mountain out of a mole hill’? Why not share your experience and views in the comments section below?