A registered cancer charity has donated less than 5 per cent of the $1.1 million it has collected from New Zealanders over four years.

The Department of Internal Affairs has launched a review of the Cancer Research Charitable Trust, which pays its staff a commission of up to 40 per cent to collect funds and hand out information door-to-door.

The trust's financial records show it has donated $48,563.25 towards cancer research between July 2007 and June 2011 - only 4.2 per cent of the $1.1 million it received.

According to the department's charities register website the rest of the funds went towards wages and administrative costs, with no funds going towards cancer research in two of the four years for which records are available.


Fundraising Institute chief executive James Austin said he was strongly opposed to any charity paying its collectors a commission, and he believed the trust's figures were troubling.

"On those figures, I would be deeply concerned over the way it's been processed and their expenses.

"I think it requires investigation."

The charity's listed officer, Gold Coast lawyer Troy Manhire, was investigated for fraud in South Australia in 2009 after pocketing a salary of close to A$500,000 from the Cancer and Bowel Research Association.

No charges were laid but the charity was stripped of its licence. It was reinstated by the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner on the strict condition that Mr Manhire was not involved in its management "in any way".

Mr Manhire has defended the amount of money the trust granted to research projects in New Zealand, saying that was just one of its objectives. The trust had shifted its focus towards awareness and prevention campaigns, he said.

The trust's records show some $332,000 has gone towards awareness and prevention campaigns over four years - almost $285,000 of which went on personnel costs.

The rest went towards advertising and sponsorship ($18,139.91), vehicles and travel ($17,801.37), website maintenance ($4695.97), the Embarrassment Can Kill programme ($4500) and printing ($1793.98).

Asked if it was fair to assume from the trust's name that donations would go towards cancer research, Mr Manhire said: "I can't control what people might assume." He would consider changing the trust's name.

The trust's New Zealand coordinator, Neil Armstrong, said it had collectors in the South Island, Hamilton and Auckland. The South Island collector was based in Australia and came here at his own expense.

Mr Armstrong said three staff, including himself, had been spoken to by police after members of the public raised questions about whether it was a legitimate charity. Nothing came of this because the trust was registered with the Charities Commission, now part of the department.

He said the trust's administrative costs were "typical of any charity".

It had closed its Symonds St office and now operated from Mr Armstrong's house.

In the last four years, the trust has donated $20,472 to Otago University and $28,091.25 to the Malaghan Institute, an independent medical research centre based at Victoria University and registered as a charity.

The trust had pledged $60,000 to the institute, according to a Victoria University press release at the time.

Public Fundraising Regulatory Association general manager Karen Ward said the trust was not registered with it, and she believed their tactics broke fundraising regulations.

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-additional reporting: Andrew Board of Nelson Weekly