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Reporting a serious safeguarding incident

The charity commission’s safeguarding taskforce has published its latest report, complete with guidelines to help charity trustees understand what constitutes a serious safeguarding incident, and when and how to report such incidents. Huw Evans from CaSE Insurance provides commentary and advice on the steps to be taken.

As a senior manager or trustee of a trust or foundation, you have a responsibility to report any serious incidents which occur in your organisation. The charity commission has recently been promoting this message to ensure trustees understand and act upon this responsibility.

Between 20th February and 30th September 2018, 2114 such incidents were reported to the commission; compare this to 1580 in all of 2017, and it’s clear that the commission’s recent emphasis on reporting has led to a spike in reports.

Despite this spike, this week’s report suggests a continued “significant and systemic under-reporting” of incidents in the industry. Sarah Atkinson, the Charity Commission’s Director of Policy, Planning and Communications, believes that a “culture change” is needed to improve the willingness of charities to work with their regulator to ensure that the industry does what it is supposed to do: make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Chief among these attitudinal changes, Atkinson says, is to shift the perception of an officially reported safeguarding incident as an admittance of wrongdoing. The commission believes charities are reluctant to report incidents through fear that they will be viewed as having done wrong or failed in their governance.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. The charity commission views incident reporting as an important and compulsory stage in responsibly managing incidents.

But what constitutes a serious incident, and what should you do to ensure that the great work you do isn’t undermined by one?

When to report

“An adverse event, actual or alleged” - If an incident results in – or risks – significant harm to your charity’s stakeholders, financial loss, or damage to your property or reputation, then it should be reported to the charity commission as soon as is reasonably possible.

What to report

The commission has published detailed guidelines on incidents which may be considered reportable. If an incident has occurred or been alleged, then you should consult these guidelines. The following are examples of common reportable incidents (this is not exhaustive):

  • Harm or alleged harm to your charity’s stakeholders
  • Procedural breaches which place stakeholders at risk of harm
  • Financial crimes or suspicious financial activity
  • Large donations from unknown or unverifiable sources
  • Significant financial loss or other incident which materially harms your charity
  • Links to terrorism or extremism, including any proscribed organisations or individuals
  • Significant data breaches or losses

Read Charity Commission - Examples table: deciding what to report

Remember, even if you reported it to another body (for example, the police), you still need to tell the charity commission.

How to report

The commission will want details of:

  • Who you are and your connection to the charity and authority to report on its behalf
  • Who amongst the charity’s trustees is aware of the incident?
  • What happened and when you became aware of it
  • Actions you have taken or will take to deal with the incident and prevent reoccurrence
  • Other bodies you have reported the incident to, and any references they have provided for you
  • Any media handling lines you have prepared

If you think you may need to report an incident, then consult the commission’s full guidelines for more information.

Read Charity Commission - How to report a serious incident in your charity: What to report

If you have any enquiries about the issues raised in this article, please call Huw Evans or Elaine Denny of CaSE Insurance on 0333 800 9838. You can also call them about more general risk management issues, or visit their website where they have some useful one page briefings on various aspects of managing risk in the charity sector. CaSE Insurance is a long standing partner of ACO.