On 9 November 2022, the Charity Commission issued an official warning to the trustees of Christ Church College, Oxford. The warning was on the basis that the trustees had not managed the resources of the charity responsibly, nor had they ensured that the charity is accountable.
The official warning was issued following a long-running dispute between the charity and the former Dean of the college which cost the charity a significant amount of money. Between August 2018 and January 2022 over £6.6million had been spent on legal and public relations fees related to the former Dean.
The Dean has since left, following a mediation process. The Commission instructed the charity to enter into a mediation process in 2020, and the failure of the trustees to act on this advice in a timely manner was a concern. In addition, no budget had been set by the trustees to manage the costs of dealing with this dispute, and therefore could not provide the Commission with this information when asked, and much of the costs (over £5.3million) were approved retrospectively by the trustee board. These actions speak to the concern of the Commission that the trustees were not managing the charity's resources responsibly.
The official warning also related to the trustees not ensuring that the charity was accountable. In the published accounts for the years 2018 – 2021, the costs associated with the dispute with the Dean were categorised as "other direct costs – teaching, research and residential", which the Commission expressed was potentially misleading.
The Commission has required the charity trustees to take the following steps to address its concerns:
- Undertake a full independent Governance Review and take all reasonable steps to implement its recommendations (so far as the steps are within the trustees' remit);
- Keep the Commission informed of the progress and implementation of the Governance Review at key milestones; and
- Ensure that the charity's accounts and Trustee Annual Report for the year ending 31 July 2022 comply with the legal requirement to ensure the charity is accountable.
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