Celeste Barber made history when she raised a staggering $52million for Australia’s rural firefighters.
But a legal roadblock could mean the donations never reach those most in need, so the comedian has had to call in lawyers to sort out a dispute over the money.
The Australian comedian started the Facebook fundraiser for the NSW Rural Fire Service, and encouraged 1.3million people from across the globe to donate.
She directed funds to the RFS Brigades Donations Fund, but was unaware money sent to this fund is only used on training, resources and fire equipment – not the volunteers and their families or fire-affected communities.
Celeste Barber (pictured at Tom Ford runway show on February 7) smashed world records when she raised a staggering $52million to help victims of bushfires and brave volunteer firefighters saving lives
Tens of thousands of people have donated more than $50 million to Celeste Barber’s bushfire fund after watching devastation across Australia. Pictured is a fire in Hillsville, near Taree
When she found that none of the money could be donated to families or shared with other charities in need, she decided to take legal action.
Ms Barber’s lawyers will be meeting with members of the RFS this week to discuss whether the money can be legally divided, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Urgent discussions are now underway to find a way the money can to where it was intended after Ms Barber promised to donate to a range of different charities in other states.
The $52million has been transferred from GoFundMe to a trust fund run by the RFS – but none of it has been spent.
A source told the publication Ms Barber was ‘frustrated’ when she found out none of the money could be spent ‘on the ground’.
‘She’s not happy. There’s been tensions because she wanted the money to go to the troops and the RFS said they decide where the money is spent,’ he said.
‘At the end of the day there are rules within the RFS that money has to be spent on equipment and training. That’s not where she wanted it to go.’
On its own annual report, the fund said it operates ‘solely for the purpose of supporting the volunteer-based fire and emergency service activities of the brigades’.
It says these activities included buying and maintaining firefighting equipment, as well as providing training and resources among other administrative expenses.
The viral Facebook fundraiser raised $52 million (pictured) but there are fears it may not go to communities devastated by the fires
This means the families of dead or injured firefighters could be left without a cent, as could other volunteer fire brigades.
While Ms Barber initially pledged to the NSW RFS and Brigades Donation Fund, she quickly changed the terms of her appeal to take into account other states battling the devastating bushfires.
She widened the appeal and wanted to share the money with Victorian and South Australian firefighting agencies, animal welfare group WIRES, the Red Cross and the widows of fallen firefighters.
Spokesman Ben Shepherd insisted the RFS wanted to honour Ms Barber’s wishes and said the lawyers will try and find a way.
‘No one is being bad about this, it’s all very amicable, and we will try and see her wishes through. But, as it stands, the RFS is the beneficiary and we can’t donate money people gave us to other charities,’ he said.
Donors hoped the vital funds would go to helping firefighters (pictured) and the communities devastated by blazes
If the lawyers can come to an agreement to divide the funds with other charities, they will then need to agree on how much money will go to each charity.
In 2017/18, the fund received just $768,000 in donations, meaning the $50 million is completely unprecedented.
Midway through 2018, it had just $2.1 million in the bank.
A spokesperson for NSW RFS said: ‘Throughout this emergency we have been humbled by the amazing support and extraordinary donations being made to our Brigade Donations Trust.
‘It’s important that our members, who know what’s best for their brigades and communities, have a say in the use of donated funds.
Celeste Barber (pictured with husband Api Robin in 2018) has organised her lawyers to try and find a solution to share the $52million among other charities
‘Once the bush fire emergency eases, the NSW RFS will work with senior volunteers and brigades to ensure donated funds are used for the greatest benefit of our members and their communities.’
Barber’s fundraiser quickly broke a world record by becoming the single largest hosted on Facebook globally.
The comedian took to Instagram in January promising her followers she would try her best to share the money around.
‘It seems with raising a f***-tonne of money comes with a f***-tonne of people telling you what you should do with it,’ she said.
‘So it’s going to the RFS and it will be distributed out. I’m going to make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife.
‘I get it, I get it all, I’m hearing you all. I want you to know that, otherwise why raise this money if it’s not going to go to the people who absolutely need it?’
Entire communities have been wiped off the map due to bushfires, like this one in the NSW town of Bilpin (pictured)