By Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter
A church has been blasted by the charity watchdog after spending more than £180,000 on business class travel in five years.
The Everlasting Arms Ministries in Old Kent Road, Southwark shelled out £181,143 on luxury transport between April 2015 and October 2020.
An investigation by the Charity Commission found the church, which says it aims to combat poverty across the world, had shelled out just under half a million pounds on “international outreach” in three years.
Some of the £457,665 squandered went on luxuries such as stays in five-star hotels.
The church said its former governors had decided all directors and trustees should fly business class because travelling can be difficult.
Minutes from a December 2016 trustee meeting read: “Travelling on mission filed [sic] can be cumbersome. Hence it is agreed that directors and trustees should be comfortable when travelling. It is recommended that directors/trustees going on mission field should fly business class.”
But the Charity Commission found staff who weren’t directors also travelled business class. The church’s deputy senior pastor took a £2,580 plane from London to Ghana in February 2016.
The ticket was almost five times more expensive than the £548 economy class flight another employee took.
The inquiry into the church published on June 14 reads: “The inquiry found that the charity’s financial management was poor and that there was a lack of financial expertise and planning in the charity’s administration.”
It also found that the charity “could not fully account for all its expenditure due to a lack of proper record keeping and robust internal financial controls. As a result of this, the charity failed to demonstrate that all its funds have been properly expended solely for exclusively charitable purposes.”
It added: “Analysis of the charity’s financial information shows that in the FYE [financial year end] 31 March 2016 to FYE 31 March 2018 the charity spent £457,665 on ‘international outreach’ utilising business class travel and five-star hotels.
The inquiry found that as part of its international outreach costs the charity spent a total of £181,143 on business class travel from April 2015 to October 2020.”
The church was also criticised for paying £215,948 to a senior pastor’s private American Express Card. The investigation found the pastor spent £5,094 on the card which the church claimed was for the charity, but was unable to provide receipts for.
Church trustees have since decided to order a charity debit card, according to the report.
The Charity Commission said the church’s former trustees were responsible for serious mismanagement of the church.
The report reads: “The previous trustee board is responsible for serious management and/or misconduct in the administration of the charity. How they governed and managed the charity prior to the Commission’s intervention falls well below the standard that the Commission expects.”
But it praised The Everlasting Arms Ministries’ current trustees for making changes to how the church is run.
The report continues: “There have been changes to the trustee board and significant efforts have been undertaken by the current trustees to strengthen the charity’s overall governance and its policies and procedures.”
The Everlasting Arms Ministries has been contacted for comment.
Pictured: The Everlasting Arms Ministries in Southwark (Picture: Robert Firth)
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