Friend of former CEO of housing charity stayed overnight at unit, Charities Regulator finds

The report, published today, found that the friend stayed in the unit “on more than one occasion”.

THE CHARITIES REGULATOR has found that a friend of a former chief executive of a housing charity for older people stayed at a unit owned by the organisation on at least one occasion. 

An investigation into Cabhru Housing Association Services (CHAS) has found that the friend stayed overnight in the apartment, 5 McSweeney House in Dublin, “on at least one occasion” and was observed being present in and using the apartment by staff. 

CHAS is a voluntary organisation that helps to provide independent living for elderly people living in Dublin.

In early January 2020, the charities regulator received a concern in relation to the use of the charitable assets of the charity.

The authority said it engaged with the charity over a number of months, and an investigation was launched in April 2020. 

Published today, a report into the charity said staff at CHAS became concerned about “the potential private/unauthorised use of the apartment” by the former CEO’s friend and notified the charity’s board, which took “prompt action”.

The report found that there appeared to have been an agreed arrangement in place between the former CEO and the board of the charity that facilitated the use of vacant apartments for office purposes and occasional overnight stays by the former CEO.

“This arrangement was made on the basis that it should not prevent occupation by valid tenants, and that the former CEO/consultant had to commute to/from Co Down,” the report said.

However, a review of utility bills and costs relating to the apartment confirmed a higher than expected usage of the unit, likely in excess of what would have been the case had it been used for office purposes or occasional overnight stays. 

The friend was first observed in the apartment in summer 2019 by the charity’s development officer during a routine check on the electricity reading of the unit.

When asked who he was, the development officer was told to speak to the former CEO, who later told him that it was “a friend of the family and not to worry about it.”

A number of staff members interacted with the friend during the Christmas party of the charity in 2019 and confirmed during interviews with the charities regulator that they became aware that he was the person first observed in the apartment.

The report found that CHAS did facilitate short-term renting agreements with students but that this practice was put in place “to ensure that some value was obtained from the charity assets while the de-tenanting process was taking place” for the purpose of redeveloping McSweeney House.

“No evidence was provided to suggest that existing tenants were removed from McSweeney House with a view to increase profits generated through student rentals,” the report said. 

The report also found that the son of the former CEO had used the address of Apartment No 74 Father Scully House, which is owned by CHAS, as his residential address for the purposes of registering and/or operating a company not related to the charity. 

This was deemed “inappropriate” by the Charities Regulator. 

In respect of the former CEO’s contractual position, the report found that no signed agreement was put in place between him and the charity “despite numerous decisions regarding his role, remuneration and appointment being minuted during Board meetings.”

“The Charity did not initially seek advice regarding the Former CEO/Consultant’s employment status and related taxation implications but have recently made an unprompted declaration to Revenue clarifying this status,” it said. 

In a statement today, CHAS said that the board “fully acknowledges and accepts the findings contained in the Charity Regulator’s Report on the investigation into the organisation’s affairs.”

It said the board has been engaged “in a thorough and on-going review of its corporate governance process since the investigation commenced,” which included the introduction of “rigorous policies, procedures and processes to ensure that Cabhru complies fully with the Charity Regulator’s Code of Governance and the Housing Regulator’s Performance Standards for Approved Housing Bodies.”

The organisational structure has been re-evaluated, and a “highly experienced” social housing professional is now employed in the role of Operations Manager. 

“The Board is committed to the highest standards of probity and transparency and it looks forward to working closely with the Charities Regulator to ensure that all matters raised in the Report are resolved to the satisfaction of the Regulator,” it added. 

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