Reporting a serious incident in your charity when it involves a partner

Guidance for charity trustees on when to report incidents involving the charity's partners as a serious incident.

Trustees should make a serious incident report when an incident has occurred involving one of the charity’s partners in the UK or internationally, which materially affects the charity, its staff, operations, finances and/or reputation, such that it is serious enough to be reported.

Partners in this context includes the following:

  • a delivery partner or sub-contractor of the charity
  • a subsidiary trading company of the charity
  • an organisation that receives funding from the charity
  • another charity or organisation that is linked to your charity, for example as part of a federated structure

The following is advice to help trustees apply this guidance in practice.

Trustees need to consider what to report taking into account the charity’s activities, size, funding and the nature of the relationship with the partner, as well as the nature and severity of the incident, but the Commission suggests the guiding principles about what to report start from the following three different positions:

The incident involves the charity’s funds, brand, people or an activity that it funds or is responsible for

This category concerns incidents where:

  • the charity’s funds and/or its staff/volunteers are involved; and/or
  • the incident occurs during an activity or programme which the charity funds, has responsibility for or is involved with as a joint activity/programme; and/or
  • the charity has the same branding as the partner

This is the highest risk category due to the close links between the charity and the incident. These kinds of incidents are most likely to trigger the requirement to report a serious incident to the Commission.

However, not all incidents in this category will need to be reported; this will depend on how serious the incident is and how significant an impact the incident is likely to have on the charity, its operations, finances, people and/or reputation.

Where the charity has the same branding as the partner, to the extent that the public may identify them as the same entity, there may be a significant impact on the reputation of the charity or public trust and confidence in it because the public may not distinguish between the two organisations. This may mean that the incident needs to be reported even if there is little or no impact on the charity’s activities, finances or people.

Where there is a federated structure of charities operating in different locations in England and Wales and an incident happens in one local charity, we would generally only expect that local charity and the national/umbrella body to consider whether to report.

It is a matter for the charity’s trustees to decide whether an incident is serious enough to be reported. However, their starting point should be if they would have reported the incident if it had happened in their charity, they should carefully consider reporting any incidents involving partners which fall into this category.

The incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand or people but could have a significant impact on the charity

This category concerns incidents where the charity’s funds, staff/volunteers or branding are not involved but there is still a significant impact on the charity. Incidents are less likely to need to be reported to the Commission when the charity does not have close links to them. However, they may still need to be reported where the particular incident:

a. causes or is likely to cause material reputational damage to the charity and/or

b. raises or is likely to raise material issues around due diligence in terms of whether the partner involved remains capable of delivering the charity’s work or continues to be a suitable partner for the charity to work with and/or

c. is a trigger event (a matter or event type prescribed and defined within the charity’s own funding or partnership agreement) that the charity considers to be so significant it would trigger suspension or termination of the agreement or arrangement

The incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand or people and has little or no impact on the charity

This category concerns incidents that do not involve the charity’s funds, staff/volunteers or branding and are sufficiently remote from the charity’s work that they have little or no impact on the charity’s reputation or the partner’s ability to deliver its work with the charity.

This type of incident would not usually trigger the requirement for reporting to the Commission. However, the charity should still consider whether there are any areas for improvement or changes required to policy or procedures in relation to such incidents.

Whilst the above provides a starting point for trustees to consider, in the event of an incident occurring each charity should undertake an assessment to determine whether the incident should be reported. This assessment should take into account the specific circumstances of the event or incident, the actual or likely impact and the risk to the charity.

The role of the Commission is to hold charities to account on behalf of the public. The public expectation is that a charity has got the right level of oversight in relation to incidents which materially affect its operations, finances, people, reputation or the reputation of charity as a whole. This includes assurance that the consequences and risks from incidents in partner organisations are being properly managed by the charity.

Published 19 December 2019