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Protecting people and safeguarding should be a governance priority for all charities, regardless of size, type or income, not just those working with children or groups traditionally considered at risk. It is an essential duty for trustees to take reasonable steps to safeguard beneficiaries and to protect them from abuse and mistreatment of any kind (including neglect). This is fundamental part of operating as a charity for the public benefit. Trustees should also, where appropriate promote the well-being and welfare of the charity beneficiaries. Additionally, trustees must take reasonable steps to protect from harm employees, volunteers and others who come into contact with the charity through its work. A charity should be a safe and trusted environment.
In addition, many charities work with or come into contact with children or adults (aged 18 or over) who may be experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect.
Safeguarding for these situations has specific meanings under English and Welsh legislation and certain legal requirements apply:
protecting the rights of adults to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect [footnote 1]
protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of children’s health or development; ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes [footnote 2]
Everybody has the right to be safe no matter who they are or what their circumstances. Abuse and neglect can have devastating effects on individuals, families and wider society, and the damage from safeguarding incidents and allegations can be devastating to the charity concerned. Public trust and confidence in the wider sector can be harmed if these issues are not responded to appropriately.
It’s therefore essential that charities:
- have appropriate policies and procedures in place, which are followed by all trustees, volunteers, and beneficiaries
- make sure that their trustees, employees, volunteers and beneficiaries know about safeguarding and people protection
- check that people are suitable to act in their roles
- know to spot and handle concerns in a full and open manner
- have a clear system of referring or reporting to relevant organisations as soon as they suspect or identify concerns
- set out risks and how they will manage these in a risk register, which is regularly reviewed
- follow statutory guidance, good practice guidance, and legislation relevant to their charity
- be quick to respond to concerns and carry out appropriate investigations
- do not ignore harm or downplay failures
- have a balanced trustee board and do not let one trustee dominate its work - trustees should work together
- make sure protecting people from harm is central to its culture
- have enough resources, including trained staff/volunteers/trustees for safeguarding and protecting people
- conduct periodic reviews of safeguarding polices, procedures and practice
These steps are vital, given that charities are accountable to the public and must operate for the public benefit.
Further information about the Charity Commission’s role, responsibilities and how we go about our work is available on the GOV.UK website.
2. The Charity Commission’s regulatory role and risk based approach
The Charity Commission’s aim is to make sure that charities are a safe and trusted environment. Trustees must comply with their legal duties, and take reasonable steps to protect those that come into contact with the charity from harm and minimise the risk of abuse.
The Commission has an important regulatory role in ensuring that trustees comply with their legal duties and responsibilities in managing their charity. In the context of safeguarding issues, it has a specific regulatory role which is focused on the conduct of trustees and the steps they take to protect beneficiaries, employees, volunteers and others who come into contact with the charity through its work.
The Commission is not responsible for dealing with incidents of actual abuse and does not administer safeguarding legislation. We cannot prosecute or bring criminal proceedings, although we can and do refer any concerns we have to the police, local authorities and the Disclosure and Barring Service (‘DBS’) each of which has particular statutory functions. Where incidents of abuse are alleged, the police investigate whether a criminal offence may have been committed and the local authority investigates reports of abuse of children and adults at risk, taking action to ensure their welfare and safety.
Some charities, such as those providing education, may be regulated by other bodies for certain activities. We liaise with other agencies where they are involved to make sure that we effectively fulfil our responsibilities to achieve successful regulatory and safeguarding outcomes.
In the context of international safeguarding issues, the Commission has no direct regulatory remit over charities’ overseas partners or not-for-profit organisations that are not registered with it. However, where a registered charity supports, or works closely with overseas partners, we will hold the registered charity to account over the suitability and management of that relationship, including its supervision of safeguarding risks.
If something goes wrong in a charity, the Commission will check that the trustees followed the law, statutory and good practice guidance and expects them to take responsibility for putting things right.
We are a risk-based regulator and we set out our approach in our Regulatory and Risk Framework. This explains: how we operate and apply risk-led regulation through risk assessment and management; how we decide when and how to engage; and the possible outcomes of our engagement. We will intervene in serious cases where we are concerned that trustees are not fulfilling their legal duties towards their charity. That may be either because the trustees do not understand these duties, or because they are not willing or able to carry them out. Where we do act, we use our powers proportionately, according to the nature and level of the risk and its potential impact.
3. Trustees’ duties
As part of fulfilling their legal duties, trustees must take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with their charity. This includes: the charity’s beneficiaries, employees, volunteers and those connected with the activities of the charity. This should be a governance priority for all charities and is a fundamental part of operating as a charity for the public benefit.
Trustees should set an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding, so that it is safe for those affected to come forward and report incidents and concerns with the assurance these will be handled sensitively and properly.
Trustees are responsible for protecting people and safeguarding even if certain aspects of the work are delegated to staff. Trustees should therefore consider making public their clear commitment to safeguarding by publishing the charity’s relevant policies and stating that failure to follow these will be dealt with as a very serious matter. Any failure by trustees to manage safeguarding/protecting people risks adequately is of serious regulatory concern to the Commission. We may consider this to be misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity and it may also be a breach of trustee duty.
See Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees guidance for detailed information.
4. The Charity Commission’s strategy – the 4 strand approach
The aim of this strategy is to make sure that charity trustees carry out their duties and responsibilities as required by law and protect their beneficiaries and others who come into contact with their charity from harm and abuse. This strategy has 4 strands that:
- emphasise trustee awareness and prevention
- explain the Commission’s supervisory and monitoring role
- describe how it co-operates with other agencies
- set out when and how it intervenes, including the purpose and scope of its regulatory engagement
4.1 Awareness and Prevention
Prevention is primarily the responsibility of trustees, and the Charity Commission expects all trustees and in particular those who provide services for or come into contact with children or adults at risk, to have the expertise, knowledge and skills to do so effectively and responsibly.
We have published guidance to help trustees carry out their legal duties. This includes:
Finding new trustees (CC30) (in particular, the section on vetting and DBS checks)
The Commission publishes the outcome of its statutory inquiries and of some regulatory casework. Through these reports we highlight common problems that have arisen in other charities, and wider lessons on how to avoid similar situations. We also issue regulatory alerts to warn charities of current risks, and themed reports based on emerging risks.
4.2 Oversight and supervision
The Charity Commission undertakes strategic, tactical and operational risk assessments of safeguarding issues and trends according to:
- developments within the sector
- its own operational case work experience
- the Commission’s serious incident reporting regime for trustees
- information from other agencies
- complaints, incidents, allegations or reports which come to the Commission’s attention from beneficiaries, the public or other sources
This assists the Commission to:
- appropriately target resources for tactical proactive and interventionary case work
- develop its support and guidance for charity trustees
- focus its efforts on the continuous development of the Commission’s capability to deal with safeguarding concerns and the development of its relationships with other agencies
The Charity Commission’s serious incident reporting regime requires trustees to report serious incidents. A serious incident is an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:
- harm to a charity’s work, beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with the charity through its work
- loss of a charity’s money or assets
- damage to a charity’s property
- harm to a charity’s work or reputation
The Commission needs to ensure trustees comply with their duties: reporting serious safeguarding incidents demonstrates that trustees have identified a serious risk to their charity and that they are taking appropriate action to deal with it and also protecting the charity from further harm.
The Commission may need to provide regulatory advice or guidance or use its statutory powers: trustees’ timely reporting of serious incidents allows the Commission to identify problems in charities at an early stage and, where appropriate, to provide regulatory advice and guidance . In the most serious cases the Commission may need to use its statutory powers in order to protect the charity and put it back on track. Although the Commission may not always take regulatory action following a report of a serious safeguarding incident, we will always assess and record it. Where we issue regulatory advice on how trustees should remedy a safeguarding breach, we may then monitor their compliance, to make sure they have taken the steps we required and are discharging their legal duties.
The Commission can assess the risk to other charities: serious incident reporting also helps the Commission to assess the volume and impact of safeguarding incidents within charities, to identify trends and so to understand the risks facing the sector as a whole. This insight informs the Commission’s approach as regulator, including when to issue advice, guidance or alerts to warn other charities of identified risks and how to manage these. Serious incident reporting also enables the Commission to check whether a person who is unsuitable to act as a trustee as a result of safeguarding concerns, is a trustee of another charity.
The Commission has a dedicated whistleblowing email address for charity employees and volunteers to report concerns about certain categories of serious wrongdoing, (which may include safeguarding issues), at their charity. Further information can be found in the whistleblowing guidance for charity employees.
We co-operate effectively with other agencies to prevent and disrupt the activities of those who seek to exploit charities in order to abuse children and adults at risk. We do this by:
effectively sharing information, on a reciprocal basis, with the police, local authorities, and other agencies, including having identified points of contact where there is frequent regulatory exchange
continuing to strengthen our operational relationship with partner agencies through joint working to make sure that:
partners clearly understand the Commission’s role and know when they should alert us about safeguarding risks involving a charity
- the Commission is clear when another agency is better placed to lead on and deal with safeguarding issues where, for example, the charity’s activities are specialist in nature (such as schools or health)
- the wider safeguarding issues in a charity are addressed when another agency is investigating abuse connected with it
working closely with other agencies to make sure that the Commission is kept up to date about changes to legislative requirements.
When any safeguarding concerns about a charity come to our attention, we will assess them against the Charity Commission’s Regulatory and Risk framework to decide the most proportionate and effective response.
We will consider whether:
there is an immediate risk to the charity’s beneficiaries, employees, volunteers, or others who, through its work, come into contact with the charity requiring the Commission to take prompt regulatory action
the trustees have handled the suspicions, allegations or actual instances of abuse or mistreatment responsibly and appropriately
there are adequate safeguarding measures in place and these are properly implemented
Where the trustees have acted honestly and reasonably and are taking appropriate steps to identify and manage the risk, the Commission’s engagement is likely to be limited to:
directing them to relevant guidance on their duties and responsibilities
providing additional specific advice and guidance to resolve the issue
The Commission expects trustees to act responsibly, to follow its advice and guidance, and to deal with the consequences of any breach without further regulatory intervention.
The Commission may open a statutory inquiry under section 46 of the Charities Act 2011 where the regulatory issues are serious and:
it needs to exercise powers only available in inquiry
there’s evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement
there’s a risk to charity beneficiaries, work, property, reputation, employees, or volunteers
there’s a need to safeguard public trust and confidence in a charity or charities
The purpose of an inquiry is to establish the facts. It should not in itself be seen as a determination by the regulator of wrong-doing in a charity. The ultimate aim is to stop the wrong-doing, ensure trustees comply with the law, and to put a charity back on a secure footing for the future.
Opening an inquiry allows the Commission to use the full range of its information gathering and enforcement powers of remedy or protection. We will use our powers proportionately according to the nature and level of the risk and will continue to assess this risk throughout the investigation. Some powers are used on a temporary basis during the inquiry; others are more permanent and extend beyond the end of an inquiry. Further information about statutory inquiries and the use of the Commission’s powers is available in our guidance Statutory inquiries into charities: guidance for charities (CC46).
5. The purpose and scope of the Charity Commission’s regulatory engagement
In the context of safeguarding concerns, The Commission considers the regulatory priority risk issues to be:
concerns about serious harm to, and the abuse of, children or adults in connection with a charity
the failure by a charity that works with or has regular contact with children or adults at risk to have adequate and effective safeguarding policies and procedures in place
We will give the highest priority to any case where there is a live risk of harm.
In practice, the Commission is likely to become involved in one-to-one engagement with charities:
if there is a concern that someone who is currently acting as a trustee, employee or is otherwise involved in the charity, is unsuitable to hold that position
when there are concerns or allegations that a child or adult has been abused or mistreated, and this is in connection with the activities of a charity or someone closely involved in a charity
when there is serious cause for concern because policies and procedures are not in place, or are inadequate, to protect those who may come into contact with the charity
where there are serious concerns that a charity’s safeguarding policies are not being complied with or its practices are placing people at risk of harm
The Commission will focus on:
clarifying the extent to which the charity is connected with or responsible for any alleged incident
ensuring that trustees are complying with their legal duties and responsibilities in the management and administration of the charity
ensuring the trustees are properly managing risk to current and future beneficiaries and services and at-risk groups that the charity comes into contact with including:
establishing whether the trustees have handled any allegations, concerns or actual instances of harm appropriately
ascertaining whether the trustees have adequate safeguarding policies, procedures and other appropriate measures in place to safeguard the charity, its beneficiaries, and staff and whether these are being implemented in practice
establishing whether the trustees have effective review mechanisms in place to assess the adequacy of the charity’s safeguarding policies and practices and whether they have taken reasonable steps to address any shortfalls
verifying whether the trustees are complying with statutory frameworks relevant to their charity. This includes, but is not limited to:
their duty as employers to refer cases to the DBS where they dismissed or ceased using an employee or volunteer because they think they have harmed or posed a risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults
fulfilling good safeguarding practice for individuals working with at risk groups and children by having the required DBS Checks, as well as carrying out robust recruitment practices - in some circumstances, the Commission may regard trustee failure to implement adequate safeguarding policies or to take up DBS Checks, as evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity
establishing whether the trustees have considered the damage to the charity’s assets, including its reputation, that the incident or allegation may have caused and how they are handling this
If there are concurrent criminal or civil proceedings, the Commission has an interest in knowing the outcome of these and in ensuring that the impact on the charity is dealt with properly by the trustees.
6. Personal data and other sensitive information
In order to carry out our functions, the Charity Commission will collect and process sensitive information, including personal data and special categories of personal data. In certain circumstances we may further disclose sensitive and/or confidential information provided to us, but we will always treat and handle information in accordance with the law.
If the information you provide to the Commission is particularly sensitive or confidential you should tell the Commission and explain why this is so. By telling us, we can take steps to ensure that information is appropriately protected.
You can find out more about how the Commission uses data, when we further disclose information, and how we fulfil our obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 in our personal information charter.
Source – Working together to Safeguard Children 2018. In Wales, the Safeguarding Children: Working Together Under the Children Act 2004 (2007) defines safeguarding as: Protecting children from abuse and neglect; preventing impairment of their health or development; and ensuring that they receive safe and effective care, to enable them to have optimum life chances. ↩