Gap year students face losing thousands of pounds after a charity used by the Duke of Cambridge collapsed just days after taking cash they had raised to fund overseas trips.
Raleigh International - which has sent thousands of young volunteers on overseas projects and adventures - closed down without warning on Thursday, after running into financial difficulties.
Administrators for the charity said it had been left insolvent after travel restrictions during the Covid pandemic, along with cuts in government spending on foreign aid, had a dramatic impact on its ability to raise funds.
It has now emerged that in the days preceding the collapse, many prospective volunteers paid the charity thousands of pounds they had raised to facilitate their trips.
Parents and volunteers said they were given no indication there were problems, despite talking to staff from the charity about their forthcoming trips just days before it closed down.
The financial services firm called in to handle Raleigh International’s affairs is taking legal advice over the issue, but has so far not been able to give any guarantees the money will be returned.
Industry experts have warned that volunteers would have to wait until the charity’s creditors, such as businesses that have supplied services, have been paid before they know whether there are any funds left for them to be reimbursed.
That has left volunteers and their parents fearful they will be left out of pocket.
The Duke of Cambridge and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, took part as teenagers in development projects run by Raleigh International in Chile.
Rosie Giesler, who handed over £3,800 she had raised for a rainforest conservation trip to Costa Rica by working and busking, spoke to staff the day before the charity’s collapse. She received no inkling anything was wrong.
The 20-year-old, from west London, told The Telegraph: “There was no suggestion anything was wrong, so it came as a complete shock when I heard about the collapse. It was going to be one of the highlights of my year.
Her mother Dawn said: “I expect we’ll never see that money again. And she was so looking forward to the adventure - travel and excitement and working within a long-established organisation we hoped we could trust.
“She’s not the only one. It’s just such a shame when these young adults have worked hard to raise funds and they have no recourse.”
Parents voice anger at charity's collapse
Several parents took to social media to voice their anger over the way the matter had been handled.
Robert Fraser, a livestock farmer and executive director of the Real Farming Trust, wrote: “Terrible management and shocking that they took all of the young people's money (deadline was three days ago), before shutting down. My son walked 177 miles and raised over £3,000 for them, now for nothing … he is devastated.”
Mary Chubb added: “My son's deadline was May 10 and he was short so topped up with all the money from his savings.
“When was the decision taken? Presumably the directors didn’t just wake up today and decide to cease trading. They must have known then something was wrong, but still took the money off all those kids.”
Latest figures available show that in 2020, Raleigh International made a loss of more than £1.1 million as its expeditions and programmes were “significantly impacted” by the Covid-19 pandemic overseas travel restrictions.
It said its fundraising abilities were also “negatively affected” by reductions in the UK Government’s overseas funding, the war in Ukraine and the current cost of living crisis.
In a statement Carter Backer Winter, the firm appointed to handle Raleigh International’s affairs, said: “The charity is mindful that volunteers who have paid funds to the charity will be understandably concerned about the status of these funds and legal advice is being sought in this regard.”