NCVO to voice concerns of Muslim charities about bank account closures

The National Council of Voluntary Organisations has promised to raise concerns voiced by Muslim charities at meetings with a number of banks and the Charity Commission.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, met senior figures at Muslim Aid, the Muslim Charities Forum, and Muslim Hands on Wednesday.

They discussed concerns about how banks treat Muslim charities after it was reported last month that HSBC had served Muslim charities Ummah Welfare Trust and Finsbury Park Mosque with notices that their accounts would be closed. It was also reported that similar letters had been received by people connected to the non-charitable Islamic think tank the Cordoba Foundation. The reasons HSBC gave for closing the accounts were that they fell outside of the bank’s “risk appetite”, but it was suggested discrimination was behind the decisions – a charge HSBC has denied.

Etherington now intends to convene a meeting with several banks in the next few weeks to discuss the issue.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy manager at the NCVO, said: “Banks have been left in a difficult position with regard to some charities operating overseas by the requirements of tight regulations designed to avoid money laundering, along with the additional risk generated consequent to growing Middle East conflicts.”

She said it was understandable that banks sometimes find it simpler to close an account rather than carry out the complex compliance work needed to manage a risk. “However, we hope that by getting banks and charities together, we can work towards solutions that go as far as possible to minimise the likelihood of consequences for charities,” she said.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the charities and Etherington also discussed the Charity Commission’s approach to statutory investigations, its new policy of naming all charities subject to statutory inquiries and the possible reputational impact on charities.

A spokesman for the NCVO said Etherington would speak to the commission about the issues, and would question the level of information it provides to the public about charities under investigation. “In particular, though, we are interested in the time that inquiries are taking and we’re raising that with the commission,” he said. “In the interests of fairness to the charity under investigation, it is crucial that investigations are conducted as speedily as possible. We would like the commission to publish regular indicators of how long its investigations are taking.”

Last month, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity leaders group Acevo said Muslim charities perceived the commission as biased and the Charity Finance Group launched a survey to gather evidence on the impact of bank’s de-risking on the sector.

Third Sector, 15 August 2014