RSPCA breached rules over cattery manager position
Chairman’s daughter got to live rent-free
An investigation has found the RSPCA breached branch rules after allowing the daughter of its Maidstone chairman to take a salary and live rent-free at a converted cattery, while still being registered as a trustee.
The Charity Commission launched a probe after it emerged last year Katie Toms was residing at the Headcorn property with her family, and earning £18,000 a year as a live-in animal carer.
Officials were content the purchase of the property in Maidstone Road in 2011 was justified as the branch had a long-term aim of acquiring an animal welfare centre.
It was known a live-in manager was needed, but no intention had been expressed Ms Toms, daughter of Daphne Harris would be interested in the role, advertised internally and externally. Ms Harris is the branch chairman and also chairman of the charity’s national council.
The probe found the charity sought to manage conflicts of interest when Ms Toms applied, as her mother stepped back from any involvement in the recruitment process.
Its national society established a selection panel of the branch treasurer, the RSPCA regional manager and the branch support specialist.
But it failed to declare Ms Toms’ resignation as a trustee in writing before the November 2011 job offer. This is needed for a resignation to be effective under the RSPCA’s branch rules.
There was also no record of a resignation or the appointment in the minutes of the trustees’ meetings or AGM and papers submitted to the Charity Commission listed her as a trustee until September 2013.
The watchdog concluded steps were taken to manage the conflict of interest but felt the connection created a risk to the perception of independence and “jeopardised public confidence.”
The report added in failing to resign as a trustee, the salary and rent-free accommodation Ms Toms received were in breach of branch rules, which prohibit remuneration of or other material benefit by a committee member.
The commission did say however that Ms Toms would likely be entitled to “an equitable allowance for the benefit received” in exchange for her work as cattery manager.
The investigation also identified failures in the charity’s governance and deemed this should have been of a higher standard given Ms Harris’ knowledge and experience.
The charity watchdog issued formal regulatory advice to the charity’s trustees in the form of a strict action plan, setting out a number of steps to resolve weaknesses in its management and administration and ensure the trustees meet their legal duties.
It has also made clear trustees failing to comply with the plan could be guilty of misconduct and/or mismanagement.
Left: Daphne Harris, chairman of the RSPCA Maidstone branch and the charity’s national council. Her daughter took a manager role at the Headcorn branch pictured bottom right