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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/strategy-for-dealing-with-safeguarding-issues-in-charities/strategy-for-dealing-with-safeguarding-issues-in-charities
Trustees should proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries. They must take reasonable steps to ensure that their beneficiaries or others who come into contact with their charity do not, as a result, come to harm. This should be a key governance priority for trustees.
In addition, many charities come into contact with or provide activities for those who may be experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect. This includes:
children and young people under 18 years of age
adults (aged 18 and over) at risk
Safeguarding and promoting well-being and welfare means:
protecting the rights of adults to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect 1
protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of health or development; ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable them to have the best outcomes 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. Even where work with children or adults at risk does not form part of the core business of the charity, trustees must be alert to their responsibilities to protect those with whom the charity comes into contact.
It’s therefore essential that trustees:
know their responsibilities
have adequate measures in place to assess and address safeguarding risks
have adequate safeguarding policies and procedures appropriate for their charity’s particular circumstances and which reflect both the law and best practice
make sure that these policies and procedures are effectively implemented and regularly reviewed 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 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 and other persons who come into contact with the charity.
The Commission’s aim is to make sure that charities that work with or provide services to vulnerable beneficiaries comply with their legal duties, and take reasonable steps to protect them from harm and minimise the risk of abuse.
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, it’s the role of the police to investigate whether a criminal offence may have been committed. Local authorities investigate reports of abuse.
Investigating criminal matters and ensuring the welfare and safety of individuals at risk is paramount. In addition, 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. 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 expects the trustees to take responsibility for putting things right. We are a risk-based regulator and we set out our approach in our Risk Framework.
how we operate and apply risk-led regulation through risk assessment and management
how we decide when and how to engage
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
Trustees are responsible for safeguarding even if certain aspects of the work are delegated to staff. Trustees should therefore make public their clear commitment to safeguarding by publishing the charity’s safeguarding policy and stating that failure to follow it will be dealt with as a very serious matter.
Trustees should proactively safeguard and promote the well-being and welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries and take reasonable steps to protect these beneficiaries, and others who come into contact with their charity, from harm. This is a key governance priority. Any failure by trustees to manage safeguarding risks adequately would be 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 annex 1 for more detailed information on trustees’ safeguarding duties.
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
The work of the Commission’s Risk Assessment Unit; the Charity Risk Strategy and Management Group; and a Safeguarding Operational Strategy Group 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 or reputation
loss of a charity’s money or assets
damage to a charity’s property
Reporting serious incidents demonstrates that trustees have identified a serious risk to their charity and that they are taking appropriate action to deal with it and protect the charity from further harm. As such, it helps the Commission focus its engagement and resources where the risks are highest, and allows us to provide advice at the earliest opportunity.
Serious incident reporting also helps the Commission to assess the volume and impact of safeguarding incidents within charities 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 may not always take regulatory action following a report of a serious safeguarding incident, but we will always assess and record it. Where we issue regulatory advice on how trustees should remedy a safeguarding breach, we monitor their compliance, to make sure they have taken the steps we required and are discharging their legal duties.
The Commission also has a dedicated whistleblowing email address which enables charity employees 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 the Commission 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 Risk framework to decide the most proportionate and effective response.
We will consider whether:
there is an immediate risk to beneficiaries in the charity that means the Commission has to take prompt regulatory action
the trustees have handled the suspicions, allegations or actual instances of abuse 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 or mismanagement
there’s a risk to charity beneficiaries, work, property or reputation
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 at risk 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 children or adults at risk 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 children or adults 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 and its beneficiaries, 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. Confidential or sensitive information
When dealing with safeguarding concerns, in order to carry out our regulatory function, the Charity Commission may require access to information that is identified as personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998. When the Commission asks for such information, we undertake to treat and handle this appropriately and with care.
If the information you provide to the Commission is particularly sensitive or confidential and this is not likely to be evident, to be sure that this can be protected, you should tell the Commission and explain why this is so. Find out more about how the Commission uses data and our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
7. Annex 1- trustee safeguarding duties explained
7.1 The basic principles
Trustees should proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries. They should take reasonable steps to ensure that these beneficiaries or others who come into contact with their charity do not, as a result, come to harm. This is a key governance priority.
Trustees are required to act exclusively in the best interests of their charity and have a duty to act responsibly and with reasonable care and skill.
They must make sure that their charity’s assets are used only to support or carry out the charity’s purposes. This includes avoiding exposing the charity’s assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risk, and taking clear and reasonable steps to protect its beneficiaries from harm. Trustees should also be clear how incidents and allegations will be handled should they arise.
On occasion charities may be targeted by people who abuse their position and privileges to gain access to vulnerable people or their records for inappropriate or illegal purposes. Trustees must be alert to this risk and the need to manage it. Protecting children and adults from the risk of radicalisation should also be seen as part of this wider safeguarding responsibility.
Charities that fund other organisations, including overseas partners, whose activities involve contact with children or adults at risk, should carry out appropriate due diligence on the recipient body. Trustees should be confident that the partner is capable of delivering the proposed activities or services and has in place appropriate systems of control, including adequate safeguarding policies and procedures.
Trustees who act in breach of their legal duties can be held responsible for the resulting consequences and for any loss the charity incurs. When the Commission looks into cases of potential breach of trust or duty or other misconduct or mismanagement, it may take account of any evidence that the trustees have exposed the charity, its assets, or its beneficiaries to harm or undue risk by not following good safeguarding practice.
7.2 Supporting trustees with safeguarding
Charity law duties:
The main duties of trustees and what they need to do to carry these out competently are set out in detail in the Commission’s guidance The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do. This also explains in detail what is meant by ‘must and should’ with respect to trustee duties.
‘must’ means something is a legal or regulatory requirement or duty that trustees must comply with
‘should’ means something is good practice that the Commission expects trustees to follow and apply to their charity
Following the good practice specified in the Commission’s guidance will help trustees to run their charity effectively, avoid difficulties and comply with their legal duties. Charities vary in terms of their size and activities. Trustees should therefore consider and decide how best to apply this good practice to their charity’s circumstances. The Commission expects trustees to be able to explain and justify their approach, particularly if they decide not to follow its good practice guidance.
In some cases trustees will be unable to comply with their legal duties if they don’t follow the good practice.
7.3 Good practice in recruiting trustees and staff
There are legal restrictions on who can be a trustee, which are set out in the Commission’s guidance Finding new trustees (CC30). There are also other legal restrictions in safeguarding legislation on who can be involved in working with children and adults at risk. This is a complex area that continues to change and be affected by new legislation and regulations. It’s therefore vital that trustees have effective systems in place so that their charity fully complies with any legal rules which apply.
Charities have a responsibility to make sure that trustees, employees and volunteers are suitable to work with children and adults at risk; that they obtain appropriate checks from the DBS; and that they are legally able to act in these positions. Charities should obtain and verify the original certificate of any DBS Checks.
A trustee will be eligible for an enhanced DBS check without a check of the Barred Lists if the charity is either:
a children’s charity where workers for the charity are normally engaged in regulated activity3 with children
a charity whose workers normally provide certain activities for adults who are in receipt of certain services (known as ‘work with adults’) as explained in the DBS adults workforce guidance (see the Annex on page 5 onwards)
If the charity does not meet the criteria above, trustees should consider obtaining a basic check from Disclosure Scotland if, in their risk assessment it’s proportionate to do so, for example, because of the type of work which the charity undertakes, its area of operation or size.
Additionally, trustees who themselves carry out work with children or adults may also fall within the scope of regulated activity4, in which case they will be eligible to undergo DBS Enhanced checks including a check of the relevant Barred Lists.
Charities whose activities involve regular contact with children or adults at risk should always obtain a DBS Check on relevant staff (employees and volunteers) before they take up position. Depending on the role, the position may be eligible for an Enhanced DBS Check or an Enhanced DBS Check that also includes a check against the Children’s Barred List and/or the Adults’ Barred List. Find out more about the DBS eligibility guidance.
Children’s charities should follow the DBS Child Workforce guidance when deciding whether a role is eligible for any level of DBS check. The Department for Education has produced guidance on what is regulated activity with children (which allows for an Enhanced DBS check with a check of the Children’s Barred List).
Adults’ charities should follow the DBS Adult Workforce guidance, paying particular attention to the Annex on page 5 which explains that roles will be eligible for an Enhanced level check only if the adults are in receipt of certain services and the post holder is providing certain activities. The Department of Health has produced guidance on what is regulated activity with adults (which allows for an Enhanced DBS check with a check of the Adults Barred List).
If a charity’s workers are in regulated activity with either children or adults, this means that the charity is a regulated activity provider (RAP), which brings obligations under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2016, for example a duty to refer to the DBS when an employer or organisation believes a person has caused harm or poses a future risk of harm to vulnerable groups, including children. Trustees should also report this (and any other abuse or alleged abuse) as a serious incident to the Commission.
The Commission recommends that charities always obtain a DBS Check when the role is eligible as it’s an important tool in ensuring that a person is suitable to act. Charities should also make other checks – for example references and checking any work history gaps – as part of a robust recruitment process.
When an organisation applies to register as a charity, its trustees are required to declare that they have carried out all trustee eligibility checks the law requires and on the basis of those checks are satisfied that the people acting as trustees are both eligible and suitable to act. The Commission checks information provided in the application for charity registration, including any statements about working with vulnerable groups. We may also refer charities for further monitoring after registration.
An employer or volunteer manager is breaking the law if they knowingly employ someone in a role from which they are barred.
Responding to allegations and safeguarding incidents
To comply with their legal duties, trustees must react responsibly to reports of safeguarding risks and incidents of abuse and take steps to make sure they and the people working in the charity know how to deal with these. This includes having adequate systems in place to:
manage initial reports
identify and manage risk, including where necessary making reports to and liaising with the police, social services and other agencies, including the Charity Commission as a serious incident report5 , whilst ensuring that they don’t undermine the work of investigating authorities by leading potential witnesses or contaminating evidence
record and store reports securely and in accordance with relevant legislation
In summary, trustees should make a serious incident report to the Commission if:
beneficiaries have been, or are alleged to have been, abused or mistreated while under the care of the charity, or by someone connected with the charity, for example a trustee, staff member or volunteer
there has been an incident where someone has been abused or mistreated (alleged or actual) and this is connected with the activities of the charity
there has been a breach of procedures or policies at the charity which has put beneficiaries at risk, including a failure to carry out checks which would have identified that a person is disqualified under safeguarding legislation, from working with children or adults
Trustees must also manage and minimise the risk of further incidents happening as far as this is reasonably possible, by making any necessary changes to policies, procedures and work practices.
The contents and detail of a charity’s safeguarding policy will depend on the charity’s activities and the level of risk. This risk will be higher where activities involving children or vulnerable adults are central to the charity’s core purposes and services, or take place frequently. Where the risks are higher, trustees will need to do more to fulfil their legal duties and make sure their policy is adequate within the context of their operations. The policy should always include requirements for trustees, staff and volunteers to learn about protection issues in accordance with the relevant statutory guidance and within the context of their own roles and responsibilities.6
In all cases the Commission expects that, as a minimum, policies are agreed by trustees; are regularly updated; reflect statutory guidance and national and local practice; and are supported by an implementation plan. The policy should be publically available, to provide reassurance and to enable constructive feedback from beneficiaries and other stakeholders.
Some charities will also be subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. This duty is known as the Prevent duty and it applies to ‘specified authorities’ that are described in Schedule 6 of the Act.
Not every charity is a ‘specified authority’. However, some charities, for example educational charities, are ‘specified authorities’ and therefore subject to the Prevent duty.
Trustees of charities that are specified authorities should make sure that they are familiar with the government’s statutory guidance on the Prevent duty and (where appropriate) any supplementary guidance produced by relevant authorities, such as the Department for Education’s advice for school and childcare providers or the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)’s guidance on how it monitors higher education institutions’ compliance with the Prevent duty.
While the Commission does not directly oversee or monitor compliance with the Prevent duty itself, as with all legal requirements, trustees of specified authorities must make sure that their charities comply. If a charity were identified as failing to comply, the Commission may need to engage, either with other relevant authorities, or directly with the charity, to address any underlying governance problems and ensure future compliance.
Even if a charity is not a ‘specified authority’ itself, it may enter into contracts or work with bodies - such as local councils or health and social care providers - that are bound by the Prevent duty. These organisations may place contractual or other obligations on charities which relate to those authorities’ own compliance with the duty. Trustees must be aware of these obligations in addition to their broader responsibilities to prevent their charities from being abused for extremist purposes and make sure that these are factored into their charity’s risk assessments, policies and procedures.
Source – Working together to Safeguard Children 2015. 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; so as to enable them to have optimum life chances. ↩
For children, regulated activity comprises unsupervised activities (such as teaching or training) or working for a limited range of establishments with the opportunity for contact. It’s a criminal offence for a barred person to seek to work, or work in, activities from which they are barred. It’s also a criminal offence for employers or voluntary organisations to knowingly employ a barred person in regulated activity. Guidance about regulated activity with children is published by the Department for Education. ↩
The definition of regulated activity for adults identifies those activities provided to any adult, which, if the adult requires them, will mean that they will be considered vulnerable at that particular time. Information about regulated activity with adults is available from the Department of Health. ↩
These protection issues may include, but are not limited to: harm; physical or sexual abuse including sexual exploitation; negligent treatment; emotional abuse; commercial exploitation; extremism; forced marriage; child trafficking; and female genital mutilation. Statutory guidance in England for children includes, but is not limited to: Working together to safeguard children 2015; Keeping Children Safe in Education; and Disqualification under the Childcare Act 2006. For adults in England -the Care and support statutory guidance 2017. In Wales, the main statutory guidance for children is the All-Wales-Child-Protection-Procedures-2008; Keeping Learners Safe 2015; and for both children and adults - the Codes of practice and statutory guidance under section 145 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. ↩