Guidance

Reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission during the coronavirus pandemic

Guidance for trustees on what matters may need to be reported as a serious incident during the coronavirus pandemic.

We appreciate that during the coronavirus pandemic the charity sector will face extremely demanding and ever-changing challenges. Charities’ primary interest must be looking after the beneficiaries they serve.

It is still important during the pandemic that trustees are aware of matters that may need to be reported as a serious incident. Timely reporting of serious incidents enables us to provide advice and guidance to charities where required. It also helps us to gain a better understanding of the risks facing the sector, which is particularly important now as we seek to understand how the pandemic is impacting on charities.

Our guidance on serious incident reporting continues to be the main resource for helping trustees to decide whether to report. However, we appreciate that the pandemic is giving rise to some unprecedented challenges and scenarios that were not envisaged when this guidance was published.

We have therefore produced a supplementary examples table to help trustees to decide if they need to report an incident that is related to the pandemic. Trustees should still exercise their judgement in deciding whether an incident is significant in the context of their charity, taking account of its staff, operations, finances and/or reputation. However, some key things for trustees to consider are:

  • having to take action to meet government rules, such as closing premises, should not be considered to be a significant incident in itself. It is the impact of this action on the charity that is key to determining if this should be reported
  • we usually expect charities to report any financial losses that don’t involve a crime where they exceed either £25,000 or 20% of the charity’s income. However, these thresholds do not apply when considering financial losses that are related to the pandemic. Trustees should focus on the significance of the impact of any losses rather than the amount
  • trustees may still delegate to others, such as staff members, the responsibility for deciding which incidents should be reported to us. However, such decisions should be reported back to the trustees, who remain ultimately responsible for them
  • use our online form to submit reports, which should be submitted as soon as is reasonably possible after the incident or when the charity becomes aware that a significant harm or loss is highly likely. Remember to use the form to tell us about what the charity is doing about the incident
  • where trustees consider reporting an incident but decide not to report it, they should keep a brief record of their decision and the reasons for it

When deciding how to respond to the reports we receive, we will continue to prioritise those that indicate individuals are at risk or that there is a risk of serious harm to a charity’s work. We will also prioritise reports where we identify that trustees require advice and guidance from us to help them to deal with an incident. This is why it is important to tell us what the charity is doing about the incident.

Supplementary examples table

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Coronavirus outbreak

Do report if there is an outbreak of coronavirus (including suspected cases) among staff, volunteers, trustees or beneficiaries within a charity that is still operating and as a result, the charity is unable to:

  • deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries, for example a residential care home has insufficient staff to care for the residents safely
  • continue its normal operations, for example because a large number of beneficiaries are seriously ill

Also report if there is a wider outbreak which is traced back to the charity’s activities. For example, a meeting in a place of worship.

Do not report if a single staff member, volunteer, trustee or beneficiary has or is suspected to have contracted coronavirus.

Stopped operating temporarily due to lockdown or voluntarily

Do report if the charity has stopped operating temporarily under the government’s lockdown measures, for example the closure of a school, community centre, place of worship or theatre, or has stopped operating voluntarily and, as a result, the charity is:

  • unable to deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries
  • insolvent or forced to close permanently
  • highly likely to be insolvent or forced to close permanently within the next 12 months

Do not report if the charity has stopped operating temporarily but it has not resulted in one or more of the impacts above.

Lost a substantial portion of income

Do report if the charity has lost a substantial portion of its income during the pandemic, for example due to the enforced cancellation of fundraising events and, as a result, the charity is:

  • unable to deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries
  • insolvent or forced to close permanently
  • highly likely to be insolvent or forced to close permanently within the next 12 months

Do not report a loss of income during the pandemic which has not resulted in one or more of the impacts listed above.

Furloughed staff

Do report if the trustees have decided to furlough some or all of the charity’s staff and, as a result, the charity is:

  • unable to deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries
  • insolvent or forced to close permanently, for example because the furloughing of staff has directly led to the loss of a major income stream
  • highly likely to be insolvent or forced to close permanently within the next 12 months

Do not report if a decision to furlough some or all of the charity’s staff, which has not resulted in one or more of the impacts listed above.

Scam emails

Do report a scam email linked to the pandemic that causes loss or harm. For example, the charity receives an email from a bogus organisation claiming to be offering support to charities during the pandemic and is conned into making a payment.

Do not report a suspected scam email linked to the pandemic that the charity identifies as suspicious or is blocked by the charity’s computer network security systems, except where this is unusual in nature and the charity wants to bring it to the Commission’s attention.

All suspected scam emails should be reported to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) through the Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS).

Other things to report

A fraud that is linked to the pandemic. For example, the charity purchases personal protective equipment (PPE) but the products are never delivered.

The charity is being investigated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in relation to alleged abuse of the furlough scheme.

The charity is being investigated by the Police in relation to an alleged breach of government lockdown measures.

There is an allegation that a staff member or volunteer has abused a beneficiary during the pandemic.

A member of staff alleges that they have suffered significant harm due to their working conditions during the pandemic.

Published 3 June 2020