A PUBLICLY-funded health charity which is viewed as playing a vital role in the fight against Covid-19 has been pushed to provide an urgent explanation as to why it has failed to file its accounts.

Concerns have been mounting that Healthwatch North Yorkshire, which in recent years has received £150,000 annually from taxpayers as its services are a legal duty of the county council, could be struck off the Charity Commission register.

The charity not only failed to submit its accounts for 2018/19 financial year in the subsequent ten months, but also did not file them for 185 days after that.

If a charity’s accounts have not been received, the commission says “it is deemed to indicate that they are no longer operating” and in most cases charities will be struck off the register.

All charities with an income above £10,000 must submit their accounts annually to the commission, and are repeatedly reminded of their reporting requirements as the initial filing deadline approaches. If a charity misses its deadline, it receives a default notice.

The charity’s role includes providing information and advice to North Yorkshire residents about local health and social care services and making the views of the public known to health and social care providers and commissioners.

It also aims to enable people to have a voice in the improvement of health and care services and facilities.

Chairman of North Yorkshire County Council and former chairman of the county’s health scrutiny committee, Councillor Jim Clark said the charity’s repeated failings were “extremely concerning” and called for an urgent explanation.

He said: “It should be providing a particularly good service as it is relied upon by so many people. The residents of North Yorkshire deserve better. When we have been so well served by NHS staff on the frontline, it is very upsetting to be let down by the people of Healthwatch.”

In addition, the charity must name its trustees, and unless it does so cannot file its accounts. However, concerns were raised that of the five people listed as trustees two stepped down several months ago, while two others had been on the board for six months, but had not notified the commission.

Healthwatch North Yorkshire board member Judith Bromfield said the charity had taken its “eye off the ball”, and had made “an administrative oversight” for “no particular reason”, but those running it were now “getting our act together” and were very positive about its future.

She said the charity’s accountant had stated he would produce its accounts by the end of the month, that it notified the Charity Commission of changes to its board last week and admitted the charity’s high staff turnover was an issue that had been examined.

Responding to concerns that the charity had not been meeting its requirement to hold decision-making meetings in public and that the board’s chairman was also its acting chief executive, creating a potential conflict of interest, Mrs Bromfield added: “We are not required to hold all meetings in public and we have just appointed a new chief executive officer last week.”

She said: “During Covid-19 our number one priority is to get information out to people. There’s too much misinformation and misunderstanding.”