EXCLUSIVE: Info still missing re DfE ‘charge’ held by defunct Portland Aldridge Academy Trust

Janet Downs's picture

Trying to discover what happened to the unsatisfied part of a ‘charge’ relating to freehold property held by Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy Trust (IPACA) is beginning to feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.

IPACA dissolved in November 2018 after the academy transferred to Aspirations Academy Trust (AAT) in September 2017.  But neither the unsatisfied part of the charge nor the freehold appeared to have transferred with the academy.  AAT accounts describe the academy’s site as ‘leasehold’.

The Department for Education told me in a Freedom of Information response that it didn’t hold information about the charge.  I found this rather odd.  Surely someone at the DfE must know how an academy freehold became leasehold and what happened to the part of the charge which wasn’t satisfied.

I asked for an Internal Review.

The review panel decided my ‘FoI request had been handled correctly insofar as the official exhausted all areas available to find the information requested.’

However, it recommended further action.  The official handling the request should ‘communicate with the law firm listed on the partial charge legal document’ and request the name of the DfE official the solicitors worked with.  When this ‘further investigation’ was completed, the panel ‘would review and conclude whether the information requested is not held by the Department.’

I will wait patiently for a response.

UPDATE 8 JUNE 09.02:  I've had a reply from the Internal Review team.  It says they're satisfied that the FoI request was handled correctly and the DfE doesn't have the information.   It shows worrying incompetence if the DfE doesn't have information about a charge in favour of the education secretary.

ADDENDUM   The panel enclosed a timeline showing steps taken to fulfil my FoI request.  It makes interesting reading.  

In one email response, the DfE’s Land Transaction Team said the charge hadn’t been recalled. 

After a flurry of emails between various initials (G7, G6, DD), a question was asked whether the ‘case should be handled by Capital legal team’.  It was decided this wouldn’t be possible because the DfE had accepted the FoI.

Then came a suggestion that Companies House might have made a mistake.

 A draft response was sent to G7 who were ‘content for response to go to PIRAS’.   PIRAS asked why the DfE didn’t hold the information (PIRAS is not alone in wondering this).   PIRAS was told about the possibility of Companies House error.

It was then agreed to send me a letter saying the DfE didn’t have the information and that I should contact Companies House. 

I've looked again at Companies House records.  They still show a partially-satisfied charge for freehold property known as The Portland Academy.   A form submitted electronically shows it was authorised by ‘a person with an interest in the registration of the charge’.  It's hard to believe this form appeared in Companies House records by mistake.  The firm of solicitors named on the form said it was acting as ‘solicitor for the chargor’. 

And who is the chargor – the person entitled to the charge?   None other than the Secretary of State for Education.

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Celia Blair's picture
Wed, 05/06/2019 - 15:29

Amazing how many details can be ignored for MATs & academies for which local authority schools would be punished publicly and quickly?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 08:34

In cases like these, I don't think it's a question of punishment.  The ownership of school land in England is complex.  Many sites are owned by local authorities.  Sometimes these are used by academy trusts on 125 year leases; others are used by LA schools.  Other sites are owned by religious establishments.  Some schools are on land belonging (or partly belonging) to a charity which allowed a school to be built on their property for public benefit.  Others are held by foundation trusts for LA-maintained foundation schools.   Academies/free schools/UTCs/studio schools can be on leased land or land owned by the trust.  Holding the freehold doesn't mean the trust bought the land - it's handed over by the DfE and allegedly protected by these obscure 'charges'.

But the case above highlights the problem of what happens when a trust owning freehold becomes defunct.  The DfE doesn't appear to know.  It's a ridiculous situation.

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