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Pillar of Fire

Registered Charity No. 1015529


Introduction

1. This is a statement of the results of an inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993.

2. Pillar of Fire ("the charity") is governed by a Trust Deed dated 19 September 1992 and was registered as a charity in December 1992. Its objects are "the advancement of the Christian religion and in particular by maintaining a church and teaching the doctrines and practices of the Pillar of Fire Church USA." In the year ending June 2002 it had an annual income in the region of £200,000.

Issues

3. In April 2002 the Commission received a complaint that the majority of the trustees were from the same family and this family controlled the charity’s finances. In the interests of impartiality, the Commission had previously advised the charity that it was not appropriate for the majority of trustees to be members of the same family.

4. The initial evaluation established that although the Commission had given guidance on two previous occasions, four out of the eight trustees were related and two of the related trustees were the cheque signatories for the charity’s bank account.

5. An Inquiry was opened in May 2002 with the aims of:-

  • Ensuring the separation of the family’s interests from those of the charity and investigating possible unauthorised, inappropriate trustee benefit.
  • Determining whether the charity’s funds had been applied solely in furtherance of its stated objects.
  • Ensuring the charity had proper management and financial controls in place.

Findings

6. There was insufficient independence within the trustee body.

7. The charity had close links with the church of the Pillar of Fire Zarephath in New Jersey, USA. The charity received most of its funding from donations made by this body.

8. The charity was supplementing some of the living costs of two trustees although trustee benefits were not authorised. Investigators established that these benefits were received by one of the ministers and his wife by way of a share of the day-to-day costs of their accommodation.

9. The charity had purportedly extended its area of benefit but the Commission had no knowledge of any change to the charity’s governing document. Investigators clarified this with the charity and obtained evidence that the amendment had been properly effected but that the trustees had omitted to inform the Commission.

10. The charity’s management and financial controls were inadequate.

Outcome of Inquiry

11. The trustees decided that the purposes of the charity could not continue to be carried out and decided to wind up the charity. Its assets have been transferred, in accordance with the dissolution provisions of its Trust Deed, to the Pillar of Fire Zarephath, New Jersey, USA.

12. The Commission closed its Inquiry on 16 September 2002.

13. The charity was removed from the register on 16 January 2003.

Wider Issues

14. Trustees cannot receive any benefit from their charity unless they have express legal authority to do so and when it is in the best interests of the charity. Guidance can be found in the Charity Commission booklet "Payment of Charity Trustees (CC11)" which is available in printed form or on the Commission website.

15. Trustees should ensure that they are satisfied that charity funds are applied only for the purposes that are permitted in the charity’s governing document. Where there is doubt they should contact either the Charity Commission or their professional advisors for guidance.

16. It is the fundamental duty of all charity trustees to protect the property of their charity and to secure its application for the objects of the charity. In order to discharge this duty it is essential there are adequate internal financial and administrative controls over the charity’s assets and their use.


 

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