Trustees at Littlehampton Shopmobility were shocked to learn the charity did not own six mobility scooters they thought they had received as a gift.
Sussex Masonic Charities (SMC) provided the scooters in August 2013, as part of an ongoing arrangement with Shopmobility in Sussex.
In total, SMC has purchased 68 mobility scooters for the use of Shopmobility and has paid for their regular maintenance over years.
In May this year, ownership of the scooters was passed to Weald Mobility in Eastbourne, the company that has always maintained them.
Vicky Rhodes, chairman of Littlehampton Shopmobility, said the charity was quite shocked as it understood the scooters to be a gift.
She said the charity was given the option to buy the scooters, at £400 each, but it was felt they were not worth that amount as they were five years old.
Vicky added: “We couldn’t believe it when they asked for them back. It is shocking behaviour.”
Luckily, an application to the Morrisons Foundation proved successful and a donation of £4,554 was received to buy six new mobility scooters, owned outright by Littlehampton Shopmobility.
Vicky said news of a donation was a great relief.
“What would we have done?” she added.
Mike Harris, SMC chairman, said he was surprised to learn Littlehampton Shopmobility had returned the six scooters, as that was not the intention or decision of the SMC trustees.
He said: “To be clear, they have not been returned to SMC and that was certainly not the intention or decision of the SMC trustees, who were determined that Shopmobility should continue to have use of those scooters.
“Having said that I am also delighted to hear that Littlehampton Shopmobility has secured six new scooters from Morrisons to replace those SMC provided over five years ago.”
He explained the history of the relationship with Shopmobility in Sussex and particularly the units in Littlehampton, Bognor and Worthing.
“The first thing I should clarify is that the Shopmobility relationship was not with Sussex freemasons as such but rather the registered charity, of which I am chairman, Sussex Masonic Charities (SMC).
“Whilst SMC is primarily funded by the voluntary contributions of the 4,700 freemasons in Sussex, it is a separate organisation, operated independently by its trustees under the regulation of the Charity Commission. I should also point out that the vast majority of donations made by SMC are to non-masonic causes.
“The relationship between SMC and Shopmobility goes back many years. SMC records show that between March 2011 and August 2017, the charity has supported the seven Shopmobility units in Sussex to the value of £128,248.70. Since the relationship began, we believe that in total SMC has donated over £300,000 to Shopmobility in Sussex.
“Not only did SMC purchase 68 mobility scooters for the use of Shopmobility, but it paid for their regular maintenance over many years.
“The arrangement between SMC and each of the seven Shopmobility units, was that SMC would continue to own the scooters but would loan them out to Shopmobility at no cost. This was all recorded in writing with each of the units, including Littlehampton, which received six scooters in August 2013. The result was that Shopmobility had the free use of the SMC scooters, their maintenance paid for and also a rental income from the public who were using them.
“When reviewing the situation towards the end of 2017, it became clear that some of the scooters were approaching end of life as we were receiving requests for replacements. The trustees were also acutely aware that Shopmobility had received many years of support from SMC and they needed to ensure that SMC charitable donations were balanced and distributed fairly across the wide range of potential recipients. Accordingly, the trustees resolved to vary the terms on which Shopmobility continued to use the scooters SMC had loaned to them.
“When considering its options, SMC was concerned to ensure that the Shopmobility units could continue to have use of all 68 scooters. However, the SMC trustees decided that they could no longer justify the substantial cost of paying for their maintenance. The trustees were also conscious that the scooters now had little capital value.
“The SMC trustees are all volunteers and so resource is limited. As such, rather than try and negotiate terms with each of the seven Shopmobility units, it was decided that the most straightforward solution would be to transfer the ownership of the scooters, free of charge, to the business that had been maintaining them for so many years, on terms which would allow Shopmobility to continue to use the scooters. All that was going to change was that Shopmobility would need to fund the ongoing maintenance of the scooters.
“Accordingly, on 1 February 2018, I sent a letter to each of the seven Shopmobility units informing them of our decision. We gave the Shopmobility units three months’ notice before our plan was implemented in May 2018, during which time SMC continued to pay for maintenance so that all 68 scooters had been serviced before SMC transferred them. This included a cost of £1,395 in March 2018 to replace batteries on all six of the Littlehampton scooters and a further £670 to service all 12 of the scooters used by Littlehampton and Bognor.
“Since May, SMC has left the operation of the relationship between Shopmobility and Weald Mobility, the business which now owns and maintains them.”
Chris Davies, partner at Weald Mobility, told the Gazette the scooters had been collected by Weald Mobility at the request of Littlehampton Shopmobility.
He said: “The idea was for them to carry on using them, all they had to do was pay £35 per scooter to maintain them. They didn’t want to pay it. We didn’t want to pick them up, it was a shame.”