Charity spent almost €3,500 on gift vouchers for staff

File photo.

A Tusla-funded charity which was criticised for poor financial controls says it spent almost €3,500 on gift vouchers for staff because it couldn’t afford to restore their pay.

Epic, an advocacy group which works with people in care, also confirmed that alcohol purchased on its credit cards was bought as leaving gifts for two staff members.

“This practise has ceased since January 2017 and a strict no-alcohol policy applies to all of Epic’s work,” it said.

The charity was responding to the findings of an internal audit conducted by the HSE for the child and family agency Tusla, published on Wednesday.

The audit for the period between 2014 and 2016, during which Epic received €1.9m from Tusla, identified a range of financial and governance issues.

In a statement, Epic said it takes its role very seriously and has been working with the support of Tusla since last March to implement the audit recommendations, and that that process is almost complete.

“Our first concern is the vulnerable children to whom we provide vital support but we also have a duty to ensure confidence in us from our donors who trust us with their money,” it said.

It said a new management team and CEO are now in charge and policies are in place to ensure compliance with all audit recommendations, and that a fully qualified financial accountant has been employed to ensure its funds are accounted for in a “robust and transparent way”.

It confirmed that it spent €3,413 on gift vouchers for staff in 2015 as a “one-off goodwill payment” for staff who took a pay cut in 2012.

“In 2012, Epic staff took a pay-cut as part of a number of austerity measures to ensure continuity of the service,” it said.

“In 2015 staff sought a restoration of pay which the organisation was not in a position to provide into the foreseeable future.

“It was agreed in light of this that a one-off goodwill payment would be made to staff in recognition of the team’s ongoing commitment in difficult circumstances.

Staff were awarded €200 per person with an administration fee to a total of €3413.

It said during the audit period it was under-resourced in back-office support functions, particularly in finance and that it’s since upgraded its accounting software.

But in relation to specific issues raised by the audit, it said of the 23-staff it had, eight were part-time, three of whom were young people employed on a peer-mentoring project.

It said full monthly payroll reports were in place but other HR records, such as time and leave sheets, were not always physically signed.

It said a travel and expenses policy was in place but was not fully prescriptive, and that while all credit card purchases were recorded, there were no annual summary reports compiled during the audit period.

It said the reason for the purchase of medication without a stated reason remains unclear but it said non-prescription medications were bought sometimes for first-aid supplies. And it said some gift vouchers were used to thank volunteers and interns who were not employed as staff.

A €50 receipt for petrol bought by a project intern was lost and while invoices were not always signed, they were always reviewed by an appropriate member of management.

It said the concerns about board members not signing Ethics in Public Office declarations and Statement of Interest forms during the audit period has been addressed following a full governance review.

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