The Royal Albert Hall’s charitable status is to be formally investigated after its trustees were accused of benefitting from reselling free tickets.

The Attorney General has approved the Charity Commission’s request to refer an ongoing issue with the governance of the London venue to the Charity Tribunal.

There are concerns about the venue’s trustees, who privately own seats, reselling tickets at mark-up prices. If this is the case, the venue may not be operating for the public benefit as required by law of organisations with charitable status.

According to the Telegraph, around a quarter of the venue’s 5,000 seats are owned by the public. Nineteen of the charity’s trustees are also seat owners – between them owning about 140 of the potentially profitable chairs.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told the BBC: “The question is whether these arrangements enable the council to be perceived as furthering the purposes of the charity for the public benefit. We have been engaged with the Hall for some time and, while progress has been made in some areas, the central issue of how to deal with the conflicts of interest, and suggested private benefit, remain unresolved and the hall has shown minimal appetite to address these.”

The Charity Tribunal will be looking into whether the Royal Albert Hall’s trustee seat owners hold a majority on the governing council, which the charity regulator says is “an inherent unresolvable conflict of interest”.

The news first came to light last year when it emerged that debenture holders were able to sell on their free tickets rather than return them to the box office for sale at face value.

The judge-led charity tribunal is only the third tribunal probe in the past decade and the first ever to be into a specific charity. Hearings, which can be held in public, are expected to begin later this year.

Richard Lyttelton, a former president of the hall who has campaigned for reform for years, welcomed the formal inquiry, telling The Daily Telegraph: “This goes a long way towards vindicating a lengthy campaign to bring the issues of governance at this iconic national institution to light.

“Through an archaic constitution and more recent opportunities afforded by on-line ticket sites, certain commercially minded members have been able to profit by selling tickets to their seats, sometimes at many times face value. Apart from the questionable morality of this practice it is clearly not what the charity was designed for.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Royal Albert Hall said: “Over many years, the Hall has engaged in a meaningful way to resolve what is a complex set of issues, however the Commission has chosen to refuse to meet us, whilst pursuing what will be a costly and drawn out route. Whilst we will, of course, co-operate with this process, our focus will remain on entertaining audiences and to enhance our considerable charitable activities.”

Image: FA2010