The Charity Commission for England and Wales has announced various measures to help ensure that charities learn the wider lessons from recent safeguarding revelations involving Oxfam and other charities and to strengthen public trust and confidence the sector, including a second summit on safeguarding for charities and umbrella bodies working in the UK, to be co-chaired by the Minister for Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP.
The Commission is establishing a task-force, including staff from across the Commission, to deal with the increased volume of safeguarding serious incident reports which it is already experiencing since the Oxfam story first appeared. The team will also undertake proactive work to ensure prompt and full reporting of serious safeguarding incidents and give advice to charities reporting safeguarding incidents on appropriate actions. In addition, the team will undertake what the Commission describes as a ‘deep dive’ of existing serious incident reporting records to ensure that any gaps in full and frank disclosure are identified and that necessary follow-up actions, for charities or for the Commission, have been completed.
The Commission says that it will intervene in serious cases where it is concerned that trustees are not fulfilling their legal duties. It is also reissuing its previous alert to all charities emphasising the importance of full and frank disclosure.
The Commission also intends to use independent experts on safeguarding, both in the international context and in the UK, to advise and support the work of the task-force, the investigations team leading the Oxfam inquiry, and the two charity summits.
The Commission says that it continues to work closely with other government departments, including DfID, law enforcement, the Disclosure and Barring Service, and other agencies with specific safeguarding responsibilities such as the Care Quality Commission and social services, to ensure that each accesses the right expertise and shares information appropriately in order to strengthen the work across government to identify and respond to concerns about safeguarding in charities.
The Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, Helen Stephenson, has also said she wants the organisation to review the way in which it communicates with informants who raise serious regulatory concerns that result in regulatory action.
Key recent work on safeguarding by the Commission includes:
- Annual report on compliance casework (February 2018) highlighting the growing casework involving safeguarding issues and reminding charities to prioritise safeguarding in their charities.
- Safeguarding strategy (updated December 2017) making it clear that safeguarding is a key governance priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered vulnerable and stating that charities must “provide a safe and trusted environment which safeguards anyone who comes into contact with it including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers”.
- Safeguarding alert (December 2017) warning charities to report incidents now if they have failed to in the past and to review their safeguarding policy and procedures if they have not done so in the last 12 months.
- Safeguarding alert (October 2017) to newly-registered veterans’ charities, following a proactive case-working project which highlighted concerns around safeguarding in some newly-registered military charities.
- Guidance on reporting serious incidents (updated September 2017) which followed a consultation with charities and highlights the Commission concerns that charities continue to underreport incidents.