Victorian Fundraiser's Funds Frozen
27 February 2006 at 12:02 pm
The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court has granted an interim injunction preventing the Victorian Emergency Relief Fund (VERF) from spending donations and to account for all funds held by the organisation.
The Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, Dr David Cousins says the orders prevent VERF and its officers from dissipating the proceeds of fundraising appeals without the approval of the Director.
VERF must also account to the Director for all funds held by it.
In January the Director refused to re-register the organisation as a fundraiser following complaints from the public. VERF has not been permitted to conduct any fundraising activities in Victoria since 5th January 2006.
The charity was set up in 2002 to raise money for bushfire and drought assistance by a councillor in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and a former Mayor, Cr. Dale Peters.
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) said at the time that numerous complaints have been received about the fundraising activities of the VERF.
Complaints include the failure to provide receipts and the public’s inability to contact the organisation’s nominated public contact person.
Investigations by CAV have revealed that only a small percentage of gross appeal proceeds have been distributed to the nominated appeal beneficiaries.
The Director of Consumer Affairs is also reported to have concerns in relation to the fundraiser adhering to the obligations imposed on fundraisers and incorporated associations within Victoria.
The CAV says that its investigation into the relief organisation found that between December 2004 and December 2005 the charity raised $98,500 but only $19,550 went to the nominated beneficiaries.
A spokesperson for the department says the organisation has informed the Department that a further $15,000 will be distributed by the end of February.
Cr. Peter’s is reported in the Melbourne Age newspaper as vowing to fight the decision in the courts and believes he is a victim of party politics. He has accused CAV of manipulating VERF’s income and expense figures and said he has been targeted for refusing to tow the party line.
The Sunday Age newspaper reported in May last year that between December 2002 and December 2003, the charity’s total income was $252,404 and the amount paid to beneficiaries was $44,975, or about 18 per cent.
The fund was referred to Consumer Affairs Victoria after a rural small business complained to its local Member of Parliament that it could not contact the fund to apply for assistance.
There are 600 Victorian charities registered with CAV. Some 37 of those charities have conditions imposed on their fundraising activities including having to tell donors or potential donors the percentage of the funds raised that go directly to the cause.
Any person or organisation conducting fundraising activities in Victoria must first be registered by the Director in accordance with the Fundraising Appeals Act 1998, unless exempted by the Act.
Penalties for breaches of the Act include a fine in excess of $24,000 for a corporation and $12,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both for an individual.