Your questions answered: what’s going on with the Captain Tom Foundation and what can charity trustees learn from it?

Given the investigation of the Captain Tom Foundation, there’s understandable scepticism surrounding how charity funds are regulated.

Heather Bird and Madeleine Gill consider how charity trustees can find themselves in hot water if they fail to adhere to their duties. 

13 March 2024

Woman's hand on calculator with paperwork

Upon his death in February 2021, aged 100, Captain Sir Tom Moore had secured his legacy as a national treasure, having raised over £38 million for NHS charities during the Covid pandemic. 

A charity established in his name, dedicated to supporting causes close to his heart, seemed a fitting tribute to Captain Tom. However, in its relatively short lifespan, the Captain Tom Foundation (“the Foundation”) has become deeply embroiled in controversy. 

So, how are charity trustees regulated when it comes to using a charity’s funds and assets? 

Trustee duties and responsibilities

Trustees have a number of duties and responsibilities surrounding the maintenance and use of a charity’s assets. They are duty bound to ensure that a charity’s funds and assets are used for the charity’s stated purposes, to further the charity’s aims, and to make all decisions in the best interests of the charity. Trustees must also carry out adequate checks to ensure that funds raised are not only from legitimate sources but are also used for legitimate means. 

Among these broader duties is a responsibility for charity trustees to choose their partners prudently. This is why the Foundation’s interactions with two private companies, Club Nook Limited and Maytrix (which were set up and controlled by the late Captain’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and her husband, Colin Ingram-Moore), have come under particular scrutiny. 

This arrangement, and the subsequent licencing fees received by these two private companies from the Foundation, sparked inquiry into whether the trustees of the charity were in receipt of any unauthorised private benefit. This includes whether they, either personally or via a company in their control, benefitted from the use of the Foundation’s funds or assets in a way which was not properly declared, and which was not in the interests of the Foundation.

Charity Commission involvement

The Foundation found itself the subject of a Charity Commission (“the Commission”) compliance investigation. The investigation focus was their practice of making payments (via licencing fees) to trustee-owned private companies and their proposal to employ Hannah Ingram-Moore as CEO of the Foundation, on an annual salary of £100,000. 

The Commission, in closing its compliance case on these matters, declared that the payments made by the Foundation were justified and reasonable, but imposed restrictions on Mrs Ingram-Moore’s ability to act as CEO. 

The Commission believed this matter was worthy of further review and have launched an escalated statutory investigation into the Foundation’s trustees, concerning whether:

  • the trustees were responsible for mismanagement or misconduct in the administration of the Foundation;

  • conflicts of interests between trustees and their own private companies were properly managed;

  • the Foundation suffered financial loss as a result of unauthorised private benefit; and

  • the trustees of the Foundation were generally complying with their duties.

The Commission are also investigating whether the Foundation’s name and logo were improperly used by the Ingram-Moores in connection with their planning permission application for an outbuilding at their home, which included a spa pool, toilets, and a kitchen “for private use”. The building erected has now been demolished as the local authority was unwilling to provide retrospective planning permission for the development, on the basis that it was considerably more extensive than the plans originally submitted. 

In terms of charity regulation, a clear conflict of interest arises in the use of the Foundation’s brand for the apparent private benefit of the Ingram-Moores. Whether this conflict was properly declared and managed is yet to be determined as the Commission’s investigation continues.

A learning opportunity

Though ongoing, the Commission's investigation highlights some key components as to how trustees should conduct themselves when it comes to using a charity’s assets. 

Trustees should ensure that they are fully aware of their duties and responsibilities to the charity. Every decision they make on the use of the charity’s funds must be in the interests of the charity and in furtherance of its purposes. 

This includes declaring when there is a potential conflict of interest between the interests of the charity and those of a trustee, whether as an individual or as a partnering organisation. These potential conflicts should be properly recorded and managed throughout, to ensure that there is no trustee partiality exercised in funding decisions and no unauthorised benefit received by a trustee.

Reputation management should also be considered carefully by trustees. The use of the charity brand in circumstances where the purpose is not solely for the benefit of the charity, or in its best interests, should be navigated cautiously to ensure that trustees are not extracting personal gain from the charity’s goodwill. 

The key lesson for trustees is that the utilisation of charity assets for any purpose out with the charity’s aims and interests is prohibited, and the Commission will take action to ensure that this rule is adhered to. While this case concerns the English Charity Commission, it is worth noting that the regulatory body for Scottish charities, OSCR, is also entitled to undertake similar investigations.

The Foundation is no longer accepting donations in light of the ongoing controversy, which demonstrates just how damaging such allegations can be. It is unlikely that public confidence in the charity will ever be restored enough to resume operations. So, if you really fancy a hot stone massage,  your best bet may be your nearest wellness centre where relaxation will come investigation, and guilt, free. 

If you have any questions about charity regulation, trustee duties, or charities more generally, our charities team are always happy to discuss your queries at any time.

This article was co-authored by Trainee Madeleine Gill.