Charities regulator queries costs of disability service provider’s fundraising trip to Camino

Watchdog sought details from Sunbeam House Services after receiving complaint about high costs involved in week-long trip to Spain

The Charities Regulator queried the amount raised and sought a breakdown of the costs of a fundraising walk along the Camino trail in Spain by a Co Wicklow provider of residential homes for people with disabilities, on foot of a complaint made to the watchdog.

Sunbeam House Services runs a number of residential centres for adults with intellectual disabilities funded by the State, as well as respite and day services.

A fundraising walk along the Camino de Santiago this April organised by the disability provider has been the subject of a complaint to the Charities Regulator.

The complaint, seen by The Irish Times, criticised the high costs of the week-long trip relative to the amount of money raised for the disability service. On foot of the complaint the regulator wrote to the organisation querying how much had been raised and sought a breakdown of the costs of the trip.

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In a June 14th response, Sunbeam House outlined that about a third of the money donated to the fundraiser was spent covering the cost of the trip.

Some €47,000 was raised by 13 people who were taking part in the Camino walk. The costs associated with the fundraiser were about €17,000, which included nearly €16,000 spent on flights, accommodation and meals for those taking part.

The letter, written by the organisation’s financial controller, Martin Rogers, said the net income to Sunbeam House was more than €30,000.

Mr Rogers told the regulator that all donations were recorded on Sunbeam House’s internal accounting system, with the organisation’s finance team tracking both income and expenses on a monthly basis.

In an internal staff newsletter this March the organisation said there were two remaining places left for staff to join the trip. “We are asking for participants from Sunbeam House to raise €2,000 with €900 staying in Sunbeam for special projects,” the newsletter said.

In a statement, chief executive Joe Lynch said donations had exceeded the organisation’s initial target to raise €26,000.

Mr Lynch, who was one of those on the trip, said the walk was organised with a Drogheda-based group, the Veterans Club of Ireland, whose committee he chairs.

The walk was organised with the veterans group to “reduce administration and to ensure lower per person charges”, Mr Lynch said. “Each person who participated in this fundraising trip raised or provided sufficient funds to cover all of their individual expenses on the trip,” he said.

Funds raised for Sunbeam House had already been put towards one bathroom refurbishment project, with planning under way for a second project for the end of the year, he said.

The Health Service Executive (HSE), which funds residential disability services provided by Sunbeam House, said it also received a complaint about the fundraising event.

A HSE spokeswoman said it forwarded the complaint to Sunbeam House “for their investigation in line with their responsibilities under their service-level agreement with the HSE”.

“The HSE awaits the outcome of Sunbeam House Services’ investigation into the complaint and therefore has no further comment to make at this stage,” she said.

The Charities Regulator said it could not comment on individual cases.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times