HSE audit reveals how charity splurged on €300 ‘Click and Go’ holiday and €500 gift voucher for staff

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The Irish Hospice Foundation had weak internal financial controls, including using public funding to buy gifts and alcohol, having bank mandates authorised by former employees and showing no paperwork for some expenses claims, according to a hard-hitting HSE audit. The audit examined governance, financial and internal controls for 2020 at the Irish Hospice Foundation in Dublin, which had an income of €4.3m for the year, including over €2m from campaigns and €644,970 from the HSE. Among the findings in credit card expenditure was a ‘Click and Go’ holiday worth €300 for a retiring manager, a €500 ‘Ireland’s Bluebook’ on another retirement, €25 Christmas vouchers for members of staff and three bottles of wine for a pre-Covid leaving event. Other credit card purchases included €44 to Interflora for a staff retirement and other leaving gifts. In response, the Irish Hospice Foundation told the auditors that gifts for staff were bought from revenue other than state funding. However, the HSE audit said essential services could be diminished if funds provided by the State or the public are not used for the purposes for which they were intended and in keeping with the purpose of the charity. The auditors said gifts, flowers, vouchers and meals should not be purchased from public or charitable funds. The audit found the charity’s bank mandates authorised a former employee, who had left in September 2020, access to bank accounts. There was no evidence of segregation of duties around petty cash transactions, it said. The team from the HSE Audit Division found insufficient detail on travel claim forms to verify the accuracy of payments made. Receipts were absent to support some expense claims paid. Formal board decision authorising the use of a company credit card was not in place, the report said. The audit claimed the former finance manager and head of education and bereavements’ credit card statements were not reviewed or approved by the chief executive officer. The charity disputed that the former head of finance approved his own credit card and said it was emailed to the chair of the finance committee for approval. One-off approval by the head of education and bereavements was a result of the head of finance position being vacant. The audit said the charity did not submit its HSE annual financial monitoring report to the HSE on an annual basis and did not issue sequential receipts to donors. Some bank reconciliations did not evidence chief executive approval and it did not procure for services in line with public procurement guidelines. The audit found the charity had two credit cards during 2020 and there was no board decision on record authorising the use of a credit card, by whom, transaction limit or card limit. The charity said thank you letters to corporate donors are standard practice but it did not issue sequentially receipted letters during the audit period at the end of December 2020. A spokeswoman for the charity did not respond when contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday. In a separate audit report, also released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information legislation, auditors looked at the South Dublin Senior Citizen Club. Its main source of funding was from the HSE, at €99,618 in 2021. The audit found the systems of internal control are weak with undocumented policies and procedures for financial areas including income, expenses and payroll. The organisation was double-funded in 2020 and 2021 by both the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners when a claim for Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme was made. The auditors said this money will have to be repaid. It found that one debit card is in use and this is used by the manager to lodge funds only. There are no written procedures in place governing the use, monitoring and approval of debit cards. Management said there are no pay scales for staff and there were no staff contracts. Due to deficiencies in records provided, the auditors were unable to complete a full analysis of income sources, including bus income, daily client contributions, client membership fees, fundraising, holiday and food monies. It said that, as a result, it was unable to determine if funding levels paid by the HSE are appropriate. It recommended that HSE management should consider withholding 2022 funding to the organisation on a monthly basis pending improvements in governance arrangements. There should be appropriate procedures in place to obtain garda clearance for relevant staff. Management should ensure that no one staff member is in a position to authorise and pay their own payroll. The overall payroll files should be reviewed and signed off by management prior to processing for payment, according to the audit’s recommendations.

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