Safeguarding duties for charity trustees

You must take reasonable steps to protect your charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and those connected with the activities of the charity from harm.

Your safeguarding duties

You must take reasonable steps to protect those connected with your charity from harm. This includes:

  • people who benefit from your charity’s work
  • staff
  • volunteers
  • other people connected to its activities

This should be a key governance priority for all charities, regardless of size, type or income. This does not just apply to those working with children or people who are traditionally considered to be at risk.

You must make sure that your charity’s assets are used only to support or carry out your charity’s purposes. You must not expose its assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risk.

Safeguarding people who are at risk

Safeguarding means the range of measures in place to protect people in a charity, or those it comes into contact with, from abuse and maltreatment of any kind.

Safeguarding is defined in:

Managing the risk

People may use your charity to get to children, vulnerable people, or their records for inappropriate or illegal purposes.

You must be alert to this and actively manage the risk that your charity may be deliberately targeted; that its culture may allow poor behaviour to take place; or that people in a position of trust may abuse this.

Funding other organisations

You should carry out checks (known as ‘due diligence’) on any organisation that has contact with children or adults at risk before you give funding. This includes overseas partners.

You should be confident that any partner organisation has:

  • the ability to carry out the proposed activity or service
  • appropriate controls in place, including adequate safeguarding measures

If you fail in your trustee duties

You can be held responsible for any consequences or loss that your charity incurs if you don’t follow your duties.

When the Charity Commission looks into possible breaches of trust or duty, or other misconduct or mismanagement, we can take into account whether you followed safeguarding practice.

Read what is involved in being a charity trustee.

Read the rules on finding new trustees for your charity.

There are also other rules on who can work with children and adults at risk. This law changes often, so you must have effective systems in place to keep up-to-date and make sure that your charity follows all laws which apply.

Ten safeguarding actions for charity trustees

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Disqualification of trustees

The rules on disqualification mean that individuals cannot act as a trustee or a senior manager of a charity for a range of reasons, including being on the sex offenders register, unless they have a waiver from the Charity Commission.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

Charities must make sure that:

  • trustees, staff and volunteers are suitable to work with children and adults at risk
  • they get appropriate checks from the DBS
  • they are legally able to act in these positions

Charities should check original certificates of any DBS checks.

Charities should always get a DBS check when the role is eligible for one. Charities should also make other checks – for example references and checking any gaps in work history – as part of a robust recruitment process.

Checks for trustees

A trustee can get an enhanced DBS check without a check of the lists of people barred from working in certain roles (for adults or children) if the charity is either:

  • a children’s charity where, for example staff who are unsupervised teach, train, care for children, or work for certain places, including schools and colleges, where they come into contact with children. This is known as ‘regulated activity’.

  • a charity whose workers normally provide certain activities for adults that are listed in the DBS adults workforce guidance (from page 5 onwards)

If the charity does not meet these criteria, trustees should consider getting a basic check from the DBS if they think this is proportionate. This could be because of the size of the charity, what work it does, or where it operates.

Trustees who work directly with children or adults

If, in addition to your role as trustee, you work directly with children or adults, you may be carrying out ‘regulated activity’.

This means you can get an enhanced DBS check, including a check of the relevant lists of people barred from working in certain roles.

See the different types of DBS checks.

Checks for staff and volunteers

Charities with regular contact with children or adults at risk should always get DBS checks for relevant staff and volunteers before they start work.

It’s against the law to employ someone in a role that you know they are barred from.

Checks for a charity working with children

Charities working with children should follow the DBS Child Workforce guidance to decide if a role is eligible for a DBS check.

Read guidance on regulated activity with children to find out if a role can get an enhanced DBS check with a check of the list of people barred from working with children.

Checks for a charity working with adults

Charities working with adults should follow the DBS Adult Workforce guidance (from page 5 onwards) to decide if a role is eligible for a DBS check.

Read guidance on regulated activity with adults to find out if a role can get an enhanced DBS check with a check of the list of people barred from working with adults.

Referrals to the DBS

If your charity’s workers carry out regulated activity with either children or adults that means your charity is a ‘regulated activity provider’.

This means there are rules you have to follow under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

You must refer to the Disclosure and Barring Service if you believe a person has caused harm or poses a risk of harm to vulnerable groups, including children.

If this happens you must also report this as a serious incident to the Charity Commission.

Checks you have made

When you apply to register as a charity, trustees must declare that they:

  • have carried out all trustee eligibility checks the law requires
  • are satisfied the checks showed that the trustees are eligible and suitable for the role

The Charity Commission checks this information, including any statements about working with vulnerable groups. We may refer charities for further monitoring after they are registered.

Dealing with safeguarding incidents and allegations

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. You should set an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding, so that it’s safe for those affected to report incidents and concerns with the assurance that these will be handled properly.

You must:

  • manage reports of incidents, allegations and risks, and record and store these securely

  • identify and manage risk

  • make reports where necessary to the police, social services and other agencies, and where the criteria are met, send a serious incident report to the Charity Commission

  • make changes to reduce the risk of any further incidents

  • not lead potential witnesses or contaminate evidence

How and when to send a serious incident report to the Charity Commission

Your safeguarding policy

Your charity’s safeguarding policy should be:

  • agreed by trustees
  • regularly updated
  • in line with statutory guidance and national and local practice
  • supported by a plan for putting it in place
  • available to the public

The amount of detail in your policy will depend on what your charity does and the level of risk.

If your charity works with children or vulnerable adults then the risk is higher.

This means you need to do more to fulfil your legal duties and make sure your safeguarding policy is adequate.

Your policy should always include that trustees, staff and volunteers learn about protection issues and their responsibilities in line with statutory guidance.

Protection issues include:

  • sexual abuse and exploitation

  • negligent treatment

  • physical or emotional abuse

  • commercial exploitation

  • extremism

  • forced marriage

  • child trafficking

  • female genital mutilation

Terrorism and the Prevent duty

Some charities must have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. This duty is known as the Prevent duty.

The duty applies to ‘specified authorities’.

Some charities, such as educational charities, are ‘specified authorities’ and so are subject to the Prevent duty.

Trustees of ‘specified authorities’ must make sure their charity follows the relevant law.

Guidance about the Prevent duty

Trustees of relevant charities must follow guidance on the Prevent duty.

Where appropriate you should also follow:

Advice for schools and childcare providers

How higher education bodies’ compliance with the Prevent duty is monitored

Charities that are not ‘specified authorities’

Even if your charity is not a ‘specified authority’ you must prevent your charity from being abused for extremist purposes. This must be part of your charity’s risk assessments, policies and procedures. If you enter into contracts or work with bodies that do have to follow the Prevent duty, such as local councils or health and social care providers, they may place requirements on your charity as part of their own duty.

If you do not follow the law

If your charity fails to follow the law, the Charity Commission may need to engage with you or work with other bodies to address any underlying governance problems and make sure you can follow the law in future.

Published 6 December 2017
Last updated 1 August 2018 + show all updates
  1. We have added information on 'Disqualification of trustees' and a link to more detail and waiver forms following changes to disqualification rules on 1 August 2018.
  2. First published.