Charity Commission investigates Hackney Speaker’s charity

Michael Desmond, photo credit Gary Manhine

Michael Desmond, photo credit Gary Manhine - Credit: Archant

A potential conflict of interest between the charity founded by Hackney’s figurehead mayor and the estate agents he owns is being investigated.

The Charity Commission is looking into House the Homeless – created by the Speaker of Hackney Cllr Michael Desmond – after the Gazette flagged up a number of concerns regarding the way it is run.

The charity refers clients who are in social need and are struggling to find a property, to the estate agents he owns, On the House, which is next door to the charity in Crystal Palace, south London.

The agents can charge clients an admin fee for finding them a property.

Both business and charity operate out of premises owned by Cllr Desmond, (pictured) who was elected by his fellow councillors for the honorary year-long post of Speaker in May 2013, to fulfil the ceremonial and public duties traditionally associated with the mayor.

Cllr Desmond was listed as one of the charity’s trustees on the House the Homeless website until the Gazette contacted him last year.

No one is employed by the charity, and Cllr Desmond’s mobile number is listed as the only point of contact on the charity’s website. HM Revenue & Customs documents show that Cllr Desmond is the person registered to handle money for the charity.

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A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: “We have opened a case to assess a number issues raised in a recent complaint about the charity.

She continued: “We have begun gathering further information in relation to the allegations and will need to review this before determining what our next steps may be.”

But Cllr Desmond said he could not see what the problem was and that no referrals from House the Homeless had been charged an admin fee by On The House.

“House the Homeless does not charge fees, as far as I am aware, my company, On The House, has not received any fees from tenants referred to us by House the Homeless,” he said.

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

He added: It’s amazing people should make such a fuss about it, when we try to do good.”

“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.”