DEPHER 'Britain's kindest plumber' denies fixing tombola as watchdog investigates Burnley firm

James Anderson
James Anderson -Credit:James Maloney/Lancs Live

A man dubbed 'Britain's kindest plumber' has admitted that "mistakes have been made" amid several investigations into his company - but has denied buying a house for his family with donations to his firm.

DEPHER CIC, which stands for Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response, was set up in Burnley by James Anderson seven years ago with the aim of helping the most vulnerable in society as they struggle through the cost of living crisis.

The community interest company installs boilers and gives away food free of charge to those living on the breadline, and relies heavily on donations from the public. Celebrities including Hugh Grant have previously shown their support for DEPHER CIC, with the Notting Hill actor donating £75,000 to his cause.


But LancsLive understands the East Lancashire plumber is now under investigation by the Fundraising Regulator. Investigations by two other bodies, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the CIC (Community Interest Company) Regulator have both been concluded, Anderson says.

According to Anderson, the publication of a BBC investigation into his company is also imminent - which he described as a 'witch hunt' in a lengthy statement.

Anderson told LancsLive that 'mistakes were made' but denies several accusations he expects to be made in the BBC documentary. These include fixing a fundraising tombola, and that a house 'inhabited by a relative was bought using charitable donations' made to DEPHER CIC - which would be prohibited under the rules covering community interest companies.

DEPHER CIC is not officially classed as a charity, but can accept donations as a community interest company. These operate to provide a benefit to the community they serve - and its purpose must be primarily one of community benefit rather than private profit.

James Anderson is the founder of DEPHER
James Anderson is the founder of DEPHER -Credit:James Maloney/Lancs Live

While a CIC operates in the same way as any other company, any assets must not be used for private gain. This is described as a "fundamental feature of Community Interest Companies" by the Government.

Directors can be paid or unpaid and have the same rights and duties as any other directors.

The BBC investigation alleges DEPHER lied across several social media posts, and exaggerated stories of individuals it claimed to help. Images of individuals were also allegedly used multiple times without consent in misleading and fake stories.

According to the Fundraising Regulator an investigation into DEPHER CIC is currently ongoing. A spokesperson said: “The Fundraising Regulator has opened an investigation into DEPHER CIC to determine whether or not its fundraising has breached sections of the Code of Fundraising Practice. The Fundraising Regulator cannot comment on this investigation while it is ongoing.”

Anderson told LancsLive investigations by both the Information Commissioner's Office and the CIC (Community Interest Company) Regulator have now been concluded. Both of these bodies have been approached for comment by LancsLive but did not respond before publication.

Anderson insists that while "mistakes were made", they were genuine and not in any way an attempt to personally benefit from or mislead donors. "I set this up purely to help people; not to have people jumping through hoops," he said.

The ICO is understood to have been investigating data protection issues.

James Anderson has denied allegations he expects to be made in a BBC investigation -Credit:
James Anderson has denied allegations he expects to be made in a BBC investigation -Credit:

Anderson said: "The CIC Regulator asked me to change a few things, which we did, and they're happy with that... The Information Commissioner asked us to remove a few posts on social media, due to data protection, and we have done that.

"I have been working with the Fundraising Regulator and we have sent over what they asked for and they said they will work with us if anything needs changing. The BBC seem hell-bent on this witch hunt and making a mountain out of a molehill.

"In the last seven years we've paid £202,000 to HMRC and we have to pay £170,000 in wages. Yes, we have made some mistakes, but not because of corruption, because of naivety."

Regarding the property alleged to have been bought with charitable donations, Anderson said: "[It's inhabitant] Glen is my wife's ex-step-father. He was divorced from her mum 20 years ago but he's still close to my wife. His son Clint works for us. The property was bought to provide a regular income and we explained to the CIC Regulator that we picked them as tenants because it was guaranteed rent and the property would be looked after."

He added that the property is in DEPHER's name, and any profit made in rent is returned to the company.

Anderson also denied being involved in an alleged tombola-fixing incident, and was disappointed by the allegation.

LancsLive has approached the CIC Regulator and the Information Commissioner. The BBC declined to comment.