Exclusive: Charities watchdog may sharpen teeth as Destiny Church lags with annual financial returns

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Charities Services is looking at their approach towards "serial late filing" from charitable entities such as Destiny Church, which remains badly behind with the annual returns of three of its largest charities.

1 NEWS NOW reporter Luke Appleby said in July 2017 that the church tells him they’re working to file as soon as possible.
Source: Breakfast

According to Department of Internal Affairs documents, a total of 15 Destiny Church-associated charities have been sent 49 notices over the last two years - which include reminders to file annual returns and also overdue notices.

The notices, released under the Official Information Act, include a formal warning saying the DIA intended to remove one Destiny Church entity from the Charities Register in December 2016, but Charities Services records show a return was filed for that entity one day before it would have been deregistered.

Department of Internal Affairs Spokesperson Steve Corbett said "we have made our expectations and their responsibilities very clear to Destiny.

"Filing current and accurate financial information is a key part of registered charities providing the public with trust and confidence in the sector," Mr Corbett said.

Filing current and accurate financial information is a key part of registered charities providing the public with trust and confidence in the sector"
Internal Affairs spokesperson Steve Corbett

"We consider it a significant and persistent breach of the Act when organisations fail to file two or more annual returns at all, at which point deregistration is the usual result."

There are currently 14 Destiny Church-related entities registered as charities and of those, all are up to date with their annual returns - except for Destiny Church Auckland Trust, Destiny International Trust and Te Hahi o Nga Matamua Holdings Limited, which are overdue by more than nine months.

The three entities are among Destiny's highest earners and each last filed an annual return on September 30, 2015 for the year ended March 31 2015.

All three were granted extensions by the DIA, giving them until November 30, 2016 to file their annual returns - but those extensions are now past due by more than seven months and the annual returns are still outstanding.

However, the DIA says these three entities still do not currently meet the threshold for deregistration.

"We understand the delay is largely due to the Destiny Group having difficulty engaging an auditor but we have made our expectations and their responsibilities very clear," Mr Corbett said.

"Our standard process is to work alongside charities to understand any delays and help them file on time but Destiny's serial late filing is a real concern to us.

Destiny's serial late filing is a real concern to us"
Internal Affairs spokesperson Steve Corbett

"We are now considering whether there is a need to change or strengthen our approach to more effectively apply the legislation to situations where there is persistent late filing."

In the past, three Destiny-related charities have been removed from the charities register for failing to file an annual return as required under the Charities Act.

A spokesperson for Destiny Church told 1 NEWS that "in an effort to comply with the new Charities Commission Reporting Standards, and remain completely transparent, the Destiny Churches Group is working with new auditors who are specialised in preparing the financials of charities like ours".

"We are keeping the Charities Commission [Charities Services] constantly up-to-date with our progress, and we are confident that we will be able to meet the Charities timeframes going forward from here."

We are confident that we will be able to meet the Charities timeframes going forward from here"
Destiny Church spokesperson

Minister of the Community and Voluntary Sector Alfred Ngaro said that while he is not directly involved with the registration of charities, "the approach to charities who are filing late returns" is currently being looked at by Charities Services, who are "considering what more can be done to ensure charities better meet their reporting obligations".

"While the Government is responsible for setting the legislation governing the charities and voluntary sector, enforcement and decisions on whether or not charities are complying and should retain their charitable status are a matter for the independent Charities Registration Board," Mr Ngaro said in a statement.

"The Board's independence is important because we need to ensure that all charities are treated equally under the law ... it would be inappropriate for ministers to intervene in these decisions.

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