Charity has to sell premises to pay legal costs
A Christian charity in Dundee is facing ruin after being left with a £100,000 bill after losing an employment tribunal.
Arbroath Town Mission unfairly sacked former centre manager Wilma Swankie who was subsequently awarded over £19,000 after the long running case.
However the charity has been ordered to shoulder both its own legal costs and Swankie’s, totalling almost £100,000.
With the charity losing around £150,000 in each of the last two years, it has put its premises up for sale to pay the costs.
Ian McFatridge, the tribunal judge, said: “It must have been clear to the respondent from the outset that they would be unable to successfully defend the claim.”
He also slammed trustees for behaving in a “scandalous and unreasonable” way during the case, attempting to “obfuscate and prevaricate” to drag the case out because they knew they could not win.
Swankie got sacked after she contacted the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) over alleging the mission was failing to comply with its constitution by only allowing church members to vote on whether it should become a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation (SCIO).
The tribunal judge said Swankie’s concerns were legitimate and she should not have faced any disciplinary action as a consequence.
However the way trustees handled the disciplinary case that led to Swankie’s dismissal had not been fair, and “it is clear that the decision to dismiss was not based on any genuine consideration of what the claimant was supposed to have done,” the judge said.
The mission’s building is worth £235,000 with the charity saying it would find smaller premises from which to continue its volunteer-run activities.
According to accounts lodged with OSCR, the operation produced income of £245,000 last year but £406,000 was spent on ‘charitable activities’. A further £9,000 loss was attributed to a revaluation of a fixed asset.
It meant the charity’s funds, which include its physical assets, fell from £503,000 at the start of the year to £333,000 at the year end.
Costs included wages of £185,000 for its 15 employees. Cash at bank and in hand was £109,000 last July.
The mission is being marketed by Westport Properties from Dundee.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “OSCR did a full investigation of the changes we made to the constitution that led to this disagreement, and found we had no case to answer,” he said.
“We are, however, glad that we can now move forward and get on with our important work in the community, including projects such as our community cafe, youth and kids' clubs and our children's clothes bank initiative.
“We are grateful to be able to do so thanks to the generosity of our members.”