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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whistleblowing-disclosures-made-to-the-charity-commission-for-england-and-wales-2018-to-2019/whistleblowing-disclosures-made-to-the-charity-commission-for-england-and-wales-2018-to-2019
1. The statutory framework
The Charity Commission is a ‘prescribed person’ under the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons Order) 2014 for workers in the charity sector in England and Wales.
Whistleblowing law is located in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998). This provides the statutory framework for employment protections for charity workers who make a qualifying disclosure (or ‘blow the whistle’) to us about suspected wrongdoing, including crimes and regulatory breaches by their employer.
2. Our functions, objectives and powers
The Charity Commission is the registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales. Parliament has given us 5 statutory objectives which are to:
- increase public trust and confidence in charities
- promote awareness and understanding of the operation of the public benefit requirement
- promote compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of their charities
- promote effective use of charitable resources
- enhance the accountability of charities to donors, beneficiaries and the general public
Our general functions include:
- determining whether or not institutions are charities
- encouraging and facilitating the better administration of charities
- identifying and investigating apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities and taking remedial or protective action in connection with such misconduct or mismanagement
The full list of our general functions is set out in section 15 of the Charities Act 2011.
In 2018 to 2019, the Commission developed its strategy for the next 5 years, setting out its purpose; to ensure that charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society.
Improving our ability to identify serious concerns about charities by supporting whistleblowers contributes directly to our achievement of the strategy.
We also have a range of statutory powers which include:
- information gathering powers, which enable us to obtain information or documents, or require named individuals to meet us and answer questions
- temporary protective powers, which allow us to protect charity property for a temporary period while we continue investigating
- remedial powers which allow us to implement long-term solutions to problems often identified by an inquiry
- powers to disqualify individuals from trusteeship, issue official warnings and to direct trustees to take or not take specific action
3. Our approach to whistleblowing disclosures
Whistleblowing disclosures help us to detect serious problems such as fraud, safeguarding concerns and mismanagement in charities.
Whistleblowing therefore plays a valuable role in our regulation of the charity sector. We continue to review and improve our approach to encouraging, receiving and handling disclosures.
In doing so, we take account of Whistleblowing: prescribed persons guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the approach taken by other prescribed persons, and our own experience.
We classify charity workers and volunteers who raise serious concerns with us about their charity as whistleblowers, as their role within a charity can mean they are well placed to identify serious problems. A further explanation for why we have this wider classification is provided in section 7.
4. Assessment and case handling
Our regulatory approach is set out in our Regulatory and Risk Framework.
This helps ensure that the Commission’s regulatory engagement with charities is proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted as required by the Charities Act 2011.
While the framework is written for the wider public, it may also be useful for charity workers and volunteers when considering whistleblowing disclosures to the Commission.
When we receive a whistleblowing disclosure, our assessment depends on what we are told and the severity of the matter. We consider the information disclosed to us, then decide and prioritise what action to take according to the nature and level of risk.
5. Whistleblowing facts and figures 2018 to 2019
We received 185 whistleblowing disclosures between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019. This is a continuing increase from 101 disclosures in 2017 to 2018 and 88 disclosures in 2016 to 2017.
Key findings from 2018 to 2019 disclosures include:
- an 83.2% increase in the number of disclosures compared to the previous reporting period
- disclosures are predominantly received from employees and ex-employees (167, 90.3%)
- a fifth of disclosures related to charities supporting education/training
- safeguarding concerns are reported most frequently, which is a change from governance issues in recent years. Safeguarding and governance issues are strongly connected, especially when the safeguarding issue concerns a risk to beneficiaries
- 181 (97.8%) were identified as potentially needing some regulatory action due to the nature and level of risk reported
- 163 (97.6%) disclosures from employees or ex-employees were identified as potentially needing some regulatory action due to the nature and level of risk reported
- 85 (47.0%) of the 181 cases identified as potentially needing regulatory action were closed in this reporting period
- the most common action we took was to provide advice to charities
- the most common impact of our actions was that trustees were aware of their responsibilities and duties
Source of disclosures
We continue to receive disclosures predominantly from employees (current employee: 118, 63.8% and ex-employee: 49, 26.5%). Only 18 (9.7%) disclosures were received by non-employees.
|Source of Disclosure||Number|
Each registered charity has particular classification codes to identify its purpose. Where a charity has more than one classification, the primary classification is used in this instance.
The charities we received disclosures about varied across 17 different classifications, of which the top five are:
|Advancement of Health or Saving of Lives||18|
Type of issues raised
When we open a case, we record the type of issue raised with us. The top three reported issues in 2018 to 2019 are safeguarding, governance and fraud/money laundering. Please note, where disclosures include more than one type of issue, we base the type of issue on the primary issue reported.
The predominance of these three types of issue follows a similar pattern to previous reporting over the last five years.
In contrast, this is the first time in the last five years that safeguarding has been the most frequent type of issue reported to us. Whilst we cannot be certain, this increase is likely to have been influenced by the high profile nature of safeguarding incidents emerging from the charity sector this year, which may have encouraged others to come forward with concerns.
|Type of Issue||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||2017-18||2018-19||Total|
Safeguarding and governance issues cover a wide range of situations. Governance issues can be significant contributory factors to safeguarding incidents, most specifically when the safeguarding issue concerns a risk to beneficiaries. As such, safeguarding and governance issues are considered closely linked in a number of instances.
The other types of issue for 2018 to 2019 are: other (3), terrorism (3), charity set up for illegal/improper use (2).
The top three types of issues reported by employees and ex-employees (who account for 90.3% of disclosures) are:
|Nature of Issue||Employee||Ex-employee|
The other types of issue disclosed by employees and ex-employees in 2018 to 2019 are: other - including other types of criminality (employee - 3; ex-employee – 0) and links to terrorism (employee – 2; ex-employee – 1).
Action we have taken
Our assessment of the nature and level of risk of the 185 disclosures led us to:
- open a case (or incorporate into an existing case) in response to 181 (97.8%) of the disclosures, so we could consider further regulatory engagement
- take no further regulatory engagement in only four (2.2%) of the disclosures we received
85 (47.0%) of the 181 cases identified as potentially needing regulatory action were closed in this reporting period.
When a case is closed, we record what we have done by allocating outcome and impact codes. This captures the action we have taken to deal with the disclosure and the effectiveness of the action we have taken.
Please note, more than one outcome or impact code can be applied to an individual case. A case may also encompass issues other than those directly raised by the whistleblower. This means the actions taken and the result of our actions may not be directly or solely applicable to the issues raised by the whistleblower.
The outcome codes recorded in closed cases broadly fell into the following categories:
|General advice given||55|
|No issues to take forward||38|
|Verified that trustees were dealing with the incident||38|
|Corrective advice given/plan issued||9|
|Waiting for other regulator/agency||3|
|Outside the Commission’s remit||3|
|Charity removed from the register||2|
All the advice we provide is of a regulatory nature appropriate to the nature of the issue raised.
The impact codes recorded in closed cases broadly fell into the following categories:
|Result of our actions||Number|
|Trustees are aware of their responsibilities/duties||46|
|Charity beneficiaries, reputation and/or public trust protected||39|
|Actions led to improvements in area of charity’s work||36|
|Reassurance received that trustees are dealing with or have resolved issues||28|
|Concerns looked into and not substantiated||21|
|Contributed to other regulator||7|
|Charity on notice to improve||2|
6. The impact of whistleblowing disclosures on our ability to perform our duties
The disclosures we have received from whistleblowers this year have helped us to detect and prevent concerns in a number of charities and take steps to put these right.
Our impacts include:
- opening formal or informal investigations into charities that have been identified in these disclosures as being at serious risk
- using our powers to protect charities’ beneficiaries, assets, work and reputations and, more widely, public trust and confidence in charities and the charity sector
- identifying other governance issues not directly raised by the whistleblower and ensuring these are addressed
- ensuring charities are complying with their safeguarding duties
- giving regulatory advice to trustees to make them aware of their duties and responsibilities, and ensure they make significant and necessary improvements to their charity’s governance
7. Our plans for improvement
During the reporting period, we completed our review of all aspects of our approach to whistleblowing and developed a new service which we are now piloting. Parts of this new service were put in place during the reporting period. We completed the rest of the implementation in June 2019.
Our aim has been to put in place a more structured, supportive and personal approach which is appropriate to the needs of whistleblowers who can face risk and challenge when they speak out.
We will be piloting these changes over the coming year. We will assess the impact that they have and use the results to inform us about our future plans for handling whistleblowing disclosures.
The changes we have made which we are now piloting include:
Widening our definition of a whistleblower
We have a regulatory interest in encouraging people on the inside of charity to report their serious concerns to us so that we are better able to detect problems in charities. For this reason, during the year we began to treat charity volunteers as well as charity workers as whistleblowers, where appropriate.
It’s a significant change that extends our ability to identify serious concerns that we need to act on. Whilst volunteers do not have any statutory protections if they report serious concerns to us (unlike workers), we recognise that in other respects they face many of the personal challenges and risks experienced by workers and therefore need the same sort of engagement from us.
Providing a clear and straightforward process
We aim to make sure that the whole process of making disclosures gives confidence to those who are thinking of blowing the whistle to us. This means being able to access clear guidance from us from the outset. It also means facing as few barriers as possible to raising the sorts of serious concerns we want to hear about, and knowing that the information they provide has been received and assessed. To help with this we have:
Improved our guidance
We have revised our guidance, for workers and volunteers on reporting serious wrongdoing within a charity, so it is more focused and easier to find and read. It provides clearer explanations about when to approach us and what information we require, making it easier for potential whistleblowers to bring their concerns to our attention.
Launched a whistleblowing advice line
Using funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), we have put in place a confidential advice line run by independent whistleblowing specialists Protect. Designed during the 2018 to 2019 financial year, and launched in June 2019, this confidential advice line will help workers and volunteers who have serious concerns about a charity to decide what to do, including whether and how to raise concerns with us.
Enhanced our case handling
We have also improved the handling processes we have in place for whistleblowers. We reviewed our previous position and prepared our new approach during the reporting period. From April we now:
- phone every whistleblower who makes a disclosure directly, if desired, to discuss the concerns they have raised
- provide a direct point of contact should they need to speak to us further
This reassures the whistleblower that we understand their concerns and provides clarity on how we intend to proceed.
We have provided, and will continue to provide, our staff with training in the skills needed to receive and handle whistleblowing disclosures.