The decision deadline on the Royal Albert Hall’s charitable status has been missed, after its trustees were accused of benefitting from reselling free tickets.
The Attorney General office has missed its self-imposed target to decide on whether to refer an ongoing issue with the governance of the London venue to the Charity Tribunal.
According to the Third Sector, a spokeswoman said in September that it expected to make a decision “by the end of autumn”. However, the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, told the House of Commons last week that it was still considering further representations that had been sought from the Hall and the Charity Commission, and a decision would come “in due course.”
Sharon Hodgson, the Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West asked the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC, if he would support the commission’s request to refer the matter to the tribunal.
References to the tribunal by the commission can be made only with his consent.
“The Attorney General promised that he would make a decision on this matter by the end of the autumn,” said Hodgson. “I am sure we are now in winter, so that decision is overdue.
“The majority of the Royal Albert Hall’s ruling body owns a quarter of all the seats.
“Those seats are valued at up to £25m (€28m/$32m), and they are allowed to sell tickets for the seats on the secondary market, making huge profits. Does the Attorney General not consider that a conflict of interest, and will he allow the Charity Commission to refer it to the tribunal?”
Buckland responded that Hodgson, who is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, “has identified the core of the concern in this case”.
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.
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.
However, the Royal Albert Hall argues in its latest annual report that the resale of tickets by seat-holders is not a secondary sale, but “the disposal of primary rights.”
The commission wants to see seat-holders become a minority on the ruling council, which is currently not the case. It would remove any conflict of interest risks.