Charities: how to protect children and adults at risk

How to get checks and assessments on volunteers, employees and trustees if your charity works with children and adults at risk.


This guidance is aimed at charity trustees and highlights important sources of information to help you protect at risk groups.

Safeguarding should be a key governance priority for all charities, regardless of size, type or income, not just those working with 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. An incident of abuse or mistreatment can include neglect. Trustees should also, where appropriate, promote the well-being and welfare of the charity beneficiaries. Additionally, trustees must take reasonable steps to protect staff, volunteers and those connected with the activities of the charity, from harm. A charity should be a safe and trusted environment.

You can find out more about safeguarding in charities by reading:

Criminal record checks

There are legal restrictions under safeguarding legislation on who can be involved in working with children and adults at risk. Charities have a responsibility to:

There are additional legal restrictions under charity law on who can be a trustee which are explained in the following guidance:

Safeguards to protect your beneficiaries and others who come into contact with your charity

You must put safeguards in place to protect those who come into contact with your charity. These include, but are not limited to:

  • making all trustees, employees and volunteers aware of what abuse is and how to spot it
  • having a clear system of reporting concerns as soon as abuse is identified or suspected
  • responding to abuse or allegations of abuse rapidly and carrying out investigations confidentially
  • preventing harm and abuse with a rigorous recruitment and interview process

How to respond to safeguarding incidents

To comply with your legal duties as a charity trustee, you must responsibly handle all incidents or allegations of abuse and reports of safeguarding risks or procedural failures. You must also make sure that people working in the charity know how to deal with safeguarding issues.

As a trustee, where necessary, you must make reports of safeguarding incidents to the police, social services and other agencies, and where the criteria are met, send a serious incident report to the Charity Commission.

If you fail to report a serious incident that subsequently comes to light,the Commission may consider this to be mismanagement, for example, where the trustee have failed to manage the risks properly and breached their legal duties. this could prompt regulatory action, particularly if further abuse or damage has arisen following the initial incident.

Paid charity employees and advisers can report suspected wrongdoing as a whistleblower.

Any person is able to complain about a charity to the Police, Fundraising Regulator and the Charity Commission.

Published 23 May 2013
Last updated 1 March 2018 + show all updates
  1. Added links to the updated Charity Commission safeguarding strategy, DBS eligibility guidance and automatic disqualification rules for charity trustees. Also added references to whistleblowing guidance and how to complain about a charity.

  2. First published.