Monday, 22 February 2010

Shouldn't the Charity Commission investigate this 'helpline'?

Until yesterday, I have to confess that I had never heard of the 'National Bullying Helpline', despite working closely with various anti-bullying charities in my time in government. And there are plenty of excellent organisations, like Kidscape and Bullying UK that provide good impartial advice on school bullying, for example.

But, I'm quite sure that nobody in their right mind would want to call this helpline in the future given its founder's blase attitude to confidentiality and her admission that the website refers people to a few favoured solicitors. I'm not surprised that one of the only non-partisan patrons of the 'helpline', Professor Cary Cooper has quit as a patron because of Christine Pratt's flagrant breach of confidentiality. But the whole saga also raises issues about the charitable status of the organisation, which were not satisfactorily dealt with by Mrs Pratt in her interviews today.

A registered charity should be resolutely non-partisan - actively seeking support from all three parties if politicians from one party are involved - yet the front page of this organisation's website boasts quotes only from Ann Widdecombe (who, to be fair, has commendably expressed outrage at Mrs Pratt's behaviour yesterday) and David Cameron.

And such an organisation should not just be impartial in its politics, but in the advice it offers. The Charity Commission says that where charities are used for 'significant private advantage', there may be grounds for removing an organisation's charitable status. There are 5,000 employment lawyers in the country, yet this charity seems to refer people to just five firms, one of which is apparently run by her husband (as Mrs Pratt admitted on the Today programme). There is nothing wrong with running a website and 'helpline' to promote firms of solicitors, and offering some potentially helpful free advice in the process, but I can't see why it should qualify for charitable status any more than the 'free half hour' that most solicitors offer new clients should qualify them for charitable status.

I trust the Charity Commission will now be taking a close look at whether the 'National Bullying Helpline' has lived up to its obligations as a charity. None of this is to defend unreasonable behaviour by the PM or anyone else in No 10: if it has happened, it should be dealt with appropriately. But Mrs Pratt has allowed her own prejudices to outweigh the duty she has to anyone who trusted her 'helpline' as a source of impartial advice and confidentiality. And far from gaining the positive publicity she presumably hoped to elicit through her media interventions yesterday, she has caused immeasurable damage to her own organisation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Conor - you also need to follow this link and read about the full, shocking extent of the Pratt's activities: