Rogue collectors cash in to an unregulated charity sector

An organisation which had its charitable status withdrawn by the Revenue Commission eight years ago is still collecting money from donation boxes in shops across Ireland.

A former director of the Irish Stroke Foundation Ltd which lost its charitable status in 2000 registered the Irish Stroke Association (ISA) as a business name at his Thurles address in July of the following year.

Collection boxes bearing the ISA's name with the same lightening bolt logo used by the defunct foundation have been reported in hundreds of shop counters around the country in the past six months.

However, when we asked the Tipperary man James Simpson for the details of beneficiaries of the charity's fund raising activities, he replied: “We're not doing that anymore; we are collecting for Ark Animal Rescue now.” He then ended the conversation.

Ark Animal Rescue, a shelter for abandoned animals based in the UK, said it has no connection with Simpson. Similarly, the Irish Heart Foundation and the British Stroke Association had never heard of the Irish Stroke Association.

Mr Simpson failed to respond to further requests for comment.

The Stroke Foundation, which promoted itself as a fundraiser for the purchase of   specialised equipment for stroke sufferers, came under scrutiny in 2000 when it was revealed by RTE that IR£18,000 of IR£20,000 collected from its scratch card scheme, was spent on administration. In the same year the foundation had benefited from a IR£20,000 grant from the Department of Finance designed to compensate charities whose lotteries competed with the National Lottery.

Workers from the genuine Volunteer Stroke Scheme tried in vain for over two years to have the foundation stopped through official channels making a number of complaints to public bodies.

Anne Copeland, chairperson of the volunteer scheme said she was not surprised to hear that the issue had resurfaced.

“It's too easy in this country; the legislation is so lax it's frightening - if [charities] don't look for tax breaks then the Revenue Commission have no record of them, outside of that it's left up to their own principals and ethics.” The extent of the alleged fraud and the period over which it was operated will now be investigated by An Garda. Another anomaly likely to be investigated is a similarly named, Irish Heart and Stroke Association, registered as a business name to an address in Lisacul, Roscommon just six months after the Irish Stroke Foundation was dissolved in 2000. The individual who registered the name, believed to be from England, no longer resides at the Roscommon address but has not informed the registry of any change. Unlike registering a company, registering a business name does not require individuals to provide public returns. The individual is issued with a certificate similar to a company registration certificate, which is used by genuine charity collectors as identification.

According to figures from the Revenue Commission there are currently 7215 charities with tax relief status; an increase of 48 per cent since 2000.

However, the long-awaited Charities Bill to regulate the sector has been further delayed.

Minister of State Pat Carey, T.D who ha  responsibility for the legislation said amendments would have to be made to the Bill at the next stage in the Dáil and it now appears unlikely it will be passed into law before the summer recess.