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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Charity starts at home

August 31 2014
Charity Commission investigate concerns about Hackney councillor

The Charity Commission is investigating concerns about the conduct of Hackney's ceremonial mayor, Cllr Michael Desmond, after allegations of a conflict of interest in relation to his House the Homeless charity and his estate agency business came to light.

The Hackney charity aims to help tenants referred by social services, HM Prisons and local authority Homeless Persons Units by providing advice and support.

However, it has emerged that clients from the charity are being referred to Cllr Desmond's estate agency, On the House, which is next door in Crystal Palace. Concern has arisen because the agency can charge clients an administrative fee in exchange for finding them a property.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “In assessing the charitable status of House the Homeless, we identified regulatory concerns about potentially unmanaged conflicts of interest at the charity.

“We are currently following up these concerns with the trustees and cannot comment further at this stage.”

However they said that they are not formally investigating the charity.

MP for South Thanet Laura Sandys has raised her concerns about the case, calling it an “abuse of our housing system”.

She told the Pavement: “I am very concerned about some of the allegations which have surfaced regarding homeless ‘relocation’ schemes. In constituencies such as mine, where property prices are lower than average, it is not uncommon for developers to purchase properties and relocate the homeless, or those on housing benefit, from more expensive areas in order to make the margin as profit.

“In my view, that is a bad practice which should be curtailed. It tears people away from their communities with the false promise of a better life, and leaves them in areas where they have little family support and services are pushed to the tipping point."

Cllr Desmond has refuted such claims and explained that he is unaware of his On the House estate agency collecting any fees from tenants referred by House the Homeless.

“The main problem is so few landlords are willing to house tenants without deposits, a key priority of the scheme,” he told the Hackney Gazette.

“It’s a small charity with a tiny turnover. It just tries to promote the needs of homeless people and get the council to house them.”

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