The Charity Commission (the Commission) has recently published two pieces of updated guidance relating to safeguarding and serious incident reporting.

These result from a task force set up by the Commission in February, following serious safeguarding revelations involving Oxfam and several other charities. The updated guidance does not seriously deviate from previous guidance but seeks to ensure that trustees are fully aware of their duties and have a clear and concise framework to follow when dealing with any serious incidents in the life of a charity.

Safeguarding guidance

This updated guidance is not intended to change the role of trustees but instead seeks to provide a clearer structure concerning matters such as reporting, relevant policies and their review, and managing risks. In its published strategy, the Commission also emphasises that safeguarding should be a key governance priority for all charities, and not just those working with children or adults at risk.

Jane Hobson, the Head of Policy at the Commission, wrote a blog post to accompany the guidance. In it, she highlighted that proper safeguarding is beyond simply implementing policies and processes to deal with safeguarding issues but rather is about the protection of the beneficiaries, staff and volunteers of a charity in all aspects of the charity’s work and should go to the very heart of the charity’s culture.

The guidance is easy to read and provides information in a checklist-type format, allowing trustees to easily assess procedures that have already been put in place, as well as identify additional steps that they may need to take. The guidance also requires charities that employ staff or use volunteers to have a clear code of conduct that sets out the charity’s culture and details how it expects its staff and volunteers to behave. There are also links to additional information on matters such as Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and what to do when sending volunteers and staff overseas.

Serious incident reporting

As a result of the breaches in serious incident reporting by a number of large charities, the Commission’s task force was established to ensure charity trustees understood their duties to report. During the period from 20 February to 30 September this year, the task force received 2,114 serious incident reports compared to 1,580 reports received in the whole of 2017.

Whilst reporting has increased, the Commission is still worried about serious underreporting, as only 1.5% of registered charities have submitted any kind of serious incident report since 2014. There have also been issues regarding reporting criminal activity, where charities have often waited until the person has been arrested or convicted before contacting the Commission.

According to the Commission’s guidance, a serious incident is an “adverse event, whether actual or alleged”, resulting in:

  • harm to a charity’s work, beneficiaries or reputation;
  • the loss of a charity’s money or assets; or
  • damage to a charity’s property.

Under the new guidance, the Commission makes it clear that incidents need to be reported ‘as soon as reasonably possible’, and any charity with an annual income above £25,000 will also need to confirm (as part of its annual return to the Commission) whether there have been any serious incidents not yet reported. The Commission may regard failure by charity trustees to report a serious incident as mismanagement of the charity.

The guidance itself, as with the safeguarding guidance, is more detailed and easy to follow and trustees’ responsibilities are clearly laid out. Helpfully, the Commission has an updated table of examples outlining what incidents are serious enough to warrant reporting. The table is broken down into several categories, including fraud, theft, suspicious donations, protecting people and safeguarding incidents and links to terrorism. The Commission has also provided additional information on how to handle reporting criminal activities and safeguarding situations occurring overseas.

Along with the published guidance, a new digital tool will soon be rolled out to make it as easy as possible for charities to report incidents and provide the Commission with all the necessary information at an early stage.

Overall impact

Neither the updated Safeguarding guidance nor the serious incident reporting guidance comes with any major changes from previous guidance. The most important thing to note is that trustees have a responsibility to ensure everyone working with and for the charity (including volunteers), together with its beneficiaries, need to be properly protected. Any serious incident, whether criminal or not, needs to be reported to the Commission as soon as possible and this may even be done in incremental steps.

Further information

If you require any advice about safeguarding matters or reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission, please call 0121 214 3693 and speak to a member of our Charities team.