The Regulator for Charities in England and Wales
Registered Charities Nos. 1094563 and 1104823
You can also view the full colour PDF version of the African Mental Health Community Support & African French Speaking Council inquiry report.
This is a statement of results of two separate inquiries into these charities under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 as amended by the Charities Act 2006 (“the Act”) and published on 30 July 2008.
1. African Mental Health Community Support (“AMHCS”) is an unincorporated association registered on 11 November 2002 and is governed by a constitution adopted on 7 February 2002 as amended on 26 October 2002. Its object is to relieve poverty, hardship and distress of the African French-speaking community resident in London, in particular by the provision of interpreting services, advocacy and advice on health and housing matters.
2. African French Speaking Council (“AFSC”) is an unincorporated association registered on 9 July 2004 and is governed by a constitution adopted on 15 September 2003 as amended on 1 November 2003. The primary objective of AFSC is the relief of poverty and advancement of education of the African French-speaking community in need in the London Borough of Redbridge and adjoining boroughs as the Executive Committee shall from time to time decide.
3. AMHCS and AFSC (“the charities”) operated from the Cardinal Heenan Centre in Ilford, Essex and there was some overlap between their respective executive committees. The correspondent was the same for both charities.
4. The charities’ incomes and expenditures in the financial year ending 31 March 2006 were:
5. On 27 February 2007 the Commission received a copy of a District Judge’s judgement (Case No: FD06C00311) dated 19 February 2007 from Her Majesty’s Court Service. The District Judge had found that Mr Didi Bifar, a founding trustee of AMHCS and AFSC, “has perjured himself” and “submitted, as part of a genuine file of his organisation, a ‘Case Record Form of Unaccompanied Minors’ which I find to be false and must have been manufactured to give credence to his false evidence” in connection with AMHCS in a Care Hearing involving a beneficiary of AMHCS. The beneficiary was an allegedly unaccompanied minor from the Congo, seeking leave to remain in the UK. The District Judge had ordered that a copy of his judgement be sent to the Commission.
6. It was established that Mr Didi Bifar was a member of the Executive Committee of AMHCS and therefore a charity trustee. The Commission opened an inquiry into the affairs of AMHCS on 1 March 2007 on the grounds that, whilst acting in the capacity of charity trustee of AMHCS, Mr Bifar had, according to the Judgement, perjured himself and provided false and manufactured evidence, which would call into question his suitability to act as a charity trustee. The Commission needed to consider the impact this had on his position as charity trustee and on the charity.
7. Mr Didi Bifar was also a member of the Executive Committee of AFSC and so was a charity trustee of that charity. On 21 March 2007, the Commission opened an inquiry into the affairs of AFSC, which was to run concurrently with the inquiry into the affairs of AMHCS. The grounds for the inquiry were that by his conduct Mr Bifar had by association caused damage to the reputation of AFSC and by so doing placed its funding at risk, which would call into question his suitability to act as a charity trustee. The scope of this inquiry was to consider whether, in addition to putting its funding at risk, there had been any misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of AFSC and to take such action as might be necessary to protect AFSC and its property.
8. The inquiries focused on:
9. The inquiries ran from 1 March to 19th October 2007 for AMHCS and 21 March 2007 to 22 November 2007 for AFSC. Following closure of the Inquiries the Commission has been conducting follow-up enquiries with the charity trustees to identify whether the charities continue to be viable.
10. The Commission found that:
the use of regulatory powers did not have foreseeable adverse consequences for beneficiaries (see paragraph 11 below);
11. On 19 March 2007 the Commission met with a representative of the Social Services Department of a London Borough which had been a funder of AMHCS, a former user of its services and a recipient of referrals by AMHCS in respect of minors seeking asylum. The Social Services Department confirmed that any subsequent removal of Mr Bifar from his office as charity trustee would not place any beneficiaries at risk because the Social Services Department would arrange for alternative arrangements to be made for their safeguarding.
12. A further meeting was held later the same day at which three of the AMHCS charity trustees attended, together with the representative from Social Services. It was established that there were no children currently in the care of AMHCS. The charity trustees confirmed that no temporary foster care arrangements had been made since they were advised by Social Services that the previous arrangements were illegal. Being satisfied that the use of regulatory powers would have no foreseeable adverse consequences on the charity’s services and beneficiaries, the Commission took immediate action and suspended Mr Bifar from acting as a charity trustee, officer and agent of AMHCS and, in consideration of his dominant position within AMHCS, the Commission ordered that transactions between him and the charity trustees – and theirs with him – be restricted. At the same time, the charity trustees were advised of the Commission’s intention to remove Mr Bifar, and were given an opportunity to make representations in that regard.
13. The Commission also suspended Mr Bifar from acting as a charity trustee, officer and agent of the AFSC. The Commission sought to arrange a meeting with the AFSC charity trustees to look into whether there was evidence of misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of AFCS. The AFSC charity trustees did not respond.
14. Mr Bifar availed himself of Decision Review Procedures under which two Commission Board Members considered his representations and decided that the statutory grounds for his removal had been met and the proposed decision to remove Mr Bifar was a reasonable and proper exercise of the Commission’s powers and proportionate in all the circumstances.
15. The Commission removed Mr Bifar from acting as charity trustee, officer and/or agent of AMHCS by order on 20 August 2007.
16. The District Judge had found that, in his view, Mr Bifar had given perjured evidence before him and manufactured false documents. As a consequence, the Commission was satisfied that he had, whilst representing AMHCS, been dishonest and sought to deceive the court, and that his conduct amounted to mismanagement and misconduct in the administration of AMHCS, which were grounds for his removal and he was removed as a charity trustee.
17. The actions of Mr Bifar had caused damage to the reputation of AMHCS and placed assets and future funding at risk. The Commission considered the ongoing risk to the reputation of AMHCS and the impact of such a risk on its ability to raise funds as being unacceptable.
18. Additionally, the Commission concluded that Mr Bifar was a dominant figure in the administration of the charities to the extent that the active involvement of the other charity trustees was very limited.
19. The Commission exercised its statutory powers on:
(i) 26 March 2007 to:
(ii) 20 August 2007 to:
(iii) 17 October 2007 to:
20. As a result of the removal of Mr Bifar, both charities have been protected and he is disqualified from acting as charity trustee for any charity – including the AFSC – until and unless the Commission waives the disqualification.
21. The Commission adopted a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency team working approach on this case which involved both accountancy and legal advice and casework management within the Commission as well as external liaison with the Local Authority Social Services, HM Court Service, Borders and Immigration Agency, the Police and Home Office on child safeguarding issues.
22. Subsequent to closure of the inquiries, the Commission sought a meeting with the charity trustees of the charities to:
23. A meeting was held on 12 December 2007 with a representative of AMHCS who promised to arrange meetings with all charity trustees. This meeting proved to be difficult to arrange but it eventually took place on 12 June 2008. The AMHCS charity trustees confirmed that AMHCS is continuing to operate in furtherance of its charitable object. It currently has no resources, but funding is to be sought in the near future.
24. The Commission requested final accounts in respect of the AFSC, together with evidence that the dissolution of the AFSC had been carried out in accordance with its dissolution provision. On 16 July 2008 the Commission was informed that the final accounts were under preparation. Upon receipt of these documents, consideration will be given to the removal of the AFSC from the register of charities.
25. Charity trustees have a responsibility to act honestly, and ensure that the reputation of individual charities and the Sector is not damaged by acts of dishonesty and deception. Any acts of dishonesty or deception will not be tolerated and will lead to their removal as charity trustees.
26. Those involved in the management of a charity should work collaboratively giving consideration at all times to whether their actions are in the best interests of the charity.
27. A charity is entitled to the independent and objective judgement of each of its charity trustees, acting solely in the interests of the charity. Charity trustees who simply defer to the opinions of a dominant charity trustee are not carrying out their duty to the charity. A case in which a dominant charity trustee effectively deprives a charity of the benefit of the considered judgement of the other charity trustees is an example of poor governance amounting to mismanagement.
Charity Commission guidance and relevant legal obligation
Roles and responsibilities of charity trustees.
Date of Publication: 30/07/2008