The Charity Commission has suspended two men, Ashley and Lee Dribben, from running the Ashley Foundation. The two men were found to have spent thousands on spyware in order to spy on clients. They have each been given a 15-year suspension.
The Charity Commission heard that Ashley and Lee Dribben, the latter of whom founded the charity, had used thousands of pounds worth of donations on spyware, preventing it from getting to the vulnerable people who needed the post.
The paid also spent the money on the maintenance and upkeep of properties they both personally owned while Ashley Dribben received a payment of £40,000 for his role in helping to sell three properties owned by the charity.
Their suspension marks the end of a three-year inquiry which began when one of the foundation’s trustees, Lisa Edwards, took out an injunction against former chair David Kam and both the Dribbens. She had discovered that the charity had reimbursed Lee Dribben £840,000 for spending on his personal credit card.
However, the spending had not been for charity purposes, but for the acquisition of expensive digital devices such as an Apple watch and iPhone.
When asked about the purchases, Lee Dribben had said they were gifts “for people we thought would be of help to us in the future”.
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In their judgment, the commission said: “This is not an acceptable or appropriate use of charity funds and raises concerns of questionable practices as to how the charity operated and whether it was compliant with the Bribery Act 2010.”
When asked by the commission what the spyware would be used for, Lee Dribben said it would be “used in order to listen to individuals during contract negotiations with the charity, with the aim of the charity gaining information that would strengthen its position”.
The commission added in their statement that: “Such covert activity is unacceptable conduct for a charity to be involved in.”
Alongside Lee Dribben, Ashley Dribben was considered to have breached his company duties by receiving a commission from helping to sell three of the charity’s properties, these new property owners then entered into an agreement with a housing association that entered into an agreement with the Ashley Foundation. to manage these properties.
Head of investigations at the commission, Amy Spiller, said: “Our investigation found that the former trustees and CEO misused this charity and received significant unauthorized personal benefit from funds intended to help vulnerable homeless people.”
The homelessness situation in the UK is currently worsening with a growing number of people across all age groups finding themselves without a home.
According to a recent report from charity Shelter, there are more homeless children in London than the rest of the country put together.
The report found that around 74,000 of the 123,000 homeless children in the UK are in the capital, accounting for over half of the 150,000 homeless population in the city.
Chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, said the charity was prepared for a sharp rise in homelessness in 2023: “The new year should be a time of hope, but this isn’t the case for the over 150,000 homeless people in London who are facing a truly bleak 2023.
“A cold doorway or a grotty hostel room is not a home, but this is reality for too many people today.”
In response, a government spokesperson said: “Councils have a duty to ensure no family is left without a roof over their heads.
“That is why we’ve given them £366m this year to help prevent evictions, support to pay deposits and provide temporary housing.
“Temporary accommodation is always a last resort. Over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless since 2018 through the Homelessness Reduction Act.”
While thousands have been prevented from being made homeless in the past, this doesn’t mean thousands more aren’t at risk of becoming homeless in the near future.
A statement released by the Ashley Foundation said:
“We thank The Charity Commission for its thorough investigation and welcome its report. This statutory inquiry was undertaken after myself and the current CEO raised concerns about the conduct of a number of former trustees and the former CEO.
“The findings of the investigation are deeply distressing, but are, sadly, as we suspected. This is why we took our concerns to both the Charity Commission and Lancashire Police three years ago.
“We would like to make it clear that the trustees and former CEO referred to in the Commission’s inquiry report are no longer, in any way, connected to the Ashley Foundation.
“We thank The Charity Commission for its recognition of the diligent work the current board of trustees has undertaken to ensure the charity’s future and that robust financial controls have been put in place.
“This has been a difficult period for the Ashley Foundation and I would like to thank our residents, dedicated staff, trustees and local authority partners for their help and support during this time. We look forward to continuing to provide vital services for homeless people across the north of England.”