Meet our Expert
Jonathan advises charities on all aspects of charity law and practice, and on their corporate governance. He is a regular speaker and writer on charity law matters. He was ranked as one of the top 5 Leading Lawyers amongst Charity & Philanthropy advisers by Citywealth magazine in its 2012 Leaders List. He is currently a Governor of St Edward’s School, Oxford.
“I am a trustee of a theatre. Trustees are offered a substantial discount at the restaurant. Is it acceptable to take this discount as it is a conflict of interest? If I can accept it, should I declare it as a benefit of office to HMRC?”
This is an interesting question, which you are right to raise. In fact, I don’t think the question should be whether it is acceptable for you on your own to take this discount but instead whether it is acceptable for the Trustees as a whole to be “offered a substantial discount”. Strictly, the underlying legal principle is that trustees cannot benefit personally from their charity (whether directly or, as in this case, indirectly) unless they are authorised to do so – such authority can be given either under the constitution of the charity or by the Courts/Charity Commission, and I very much doubt that this benefit has been authorised in this way. However, the position needs to be looked at proportionately (the marginal cost involved for the contractors of providing this benefit may not be great) and much will depend on the facts – if the same discount is offered to all members of staff (and maybe also to all performers involved in productions?), and there is no special discount offered just to trustees, then I would feel more relaxed about it. As ever, therefore, the devil will be in the detail (not the kidneys) which should be checked out, and the tax position cleared with a tax adviser for all in receipt of discounts. You are right as a trustee to think twice before accepting any discount from a contractor with whom your charity contracts and should also have proper systems in place to declare such personal interests.