The Charity Commission for England and Wales is concerned that charities are not always reporting serious incidents to them despite being required to do so. It has published updated guidance to help tackle this.
The Commission states that the “significant underreporting of problems by charities” is putting those charities at potential risk of further harm. At the very least this could result in reputational damage.
Why report serious incidents?
The charity regulator says that a charity that reports a serious incident to it will:
- limit reputational and actual harm to the charity
- boost a charity’s credibility, given the Commission can state that the trustees handled the situation responsibly
- benefit from being seen to have trustees that demonstrably took appropriate action.
The Commission too benefits from receiving serious incident reports because it enables it to understand the risks facing the sector, and to respond with, for example, guidance or alerts to other charities.
The charity regulator has improved its guidance on reporting serious incidents, to help charities report appropriate matters as soon as possible after they occur.
What is a serious incident?
A serious incident in a charity is described as an “adverse event, actual or alleged, which results 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”.
Last year, charities reported 2,181 incidents to the Commission. Over half of these (55%) related to safeguarding; and around one in seven (14%) related to fraud or money laundering, with a third of reported frauds being internal (‘insider’) fraud.
How many serious incidents are reported?
The Commission states that serious incident reporting has been increasing steadily year-on-year since 2011-12, when 1,027 incidents were reported. However, it continues to find events and problems in its case work that “should have been reported to the regulator at an earlier date”.
New guidance on serious incident reporting
- includes new tools, such as examples and checklists to make it clearer to trustees what they should, and should not, report to the regulator
- provides greater clarity on incidents resulting in “significant financial loss”, making clear that losing significant funding or contracts that the charity can’t replace should be reported to the regulator
- no longer requires trustees to report if their charity doesn’t have a safeguarding policy in place, as that information is now captured through the annual return.
Commenting on the new guidance, Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy and Communication at the Charity Commission, said: “Trustees cannot always foresee or prevent a serious event arising in their charity. What they should do, however, is to act responsibly and quickly when something does go seriously wrong, taking steps to limit risk and protect their charity from further harm.
“Making an incident report to the Commission is one of the most important ways trustees can demonstrate that they are doing just that. Our updated guidance helps charity trustees understand when and how to submit a report.”
How to report
Trustees can report serious incidents as soon as they occur by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, in future, trustees will be able to report serious incidents via the Commission’s online services.
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