How to Report a Serious Incident in your Charity – new updates

The Charity Commission guidance ‘How to Report a Serious Incident in your Charity’ had a further update in October 2018.  The update coincides with the commission publishing the findings of its safeguarding taskforce.

The taskforce’s objective is to strengthen public trust in charities following the safeguarding concerns that have hit the news over the last year.  The taskforce was set up to deal with the increased volumes of serious incident reports involving safeguarding submitted to the commission after these concerns were brought to light. Between February and March, 2018, the commission saw a three-fold increase in safeguarding incidents being reported compared with the same period in 2017.  The taskforce is also charged with looking at serious incident reporting over the past four years to identify issues with reporting and to ensure appropriate action is taken by both the commission and the charity.

Although the commission found that there were no serious concerns about how the commission or the individual charities handled incidents it did find that in the four year period reviewed, 98.5% of charities did not report any incidents and 65% of incidents that were reported were reported more than two months after the date of the incident, despite the guidance requiring prompt reporting.   It also found a lack of understanding by charities as to which incidents to report, leading to under and over reporting.

The guidance has therefore been updated to clarify certain areas, one of which being additional guidance on when and how to report potential criminal offences that may have taken place abroad.

The Charity Commission guidance sets out the responsibilities of trustees, including how and what to report and data protection implications.  The Commission requires incidents to be reported as part of their regulatory role, in order that they can ensure the incident is suitably managed, the impact limited and procedures put in place to prevent reoccurrence.

Although the reporting of a serious incident may be carried out by an employee or adviser of the charity, it is the trustees who are responsible for ensuring this takes place.  A serious incident is any adverse event (actual or alleged) which leads or could lead to loss of or damage to charity assets or property or its work, or harm to people who come into contact with the charity through its work.  It also includes incidents which result in or risks significant harm to the Charity’s work or reputation. Most incidents reported will involve financial loss or safeguarding issues but all serious incidents must be reported regardless of their nature.

The ‘What to Report’ section of the guidance gives information about what types of incidents the commission expects to be reported and the different authorities or agencies that may be involved.

Incidents must be reported promptly and must be reported even if the police or other regulator has been informed. The Commission need to know the details of the incident and how it is being managed. The ‘How to Report’ section of the guidance explains how a serious incident should be reported, indicating that the Charities should take ‘immediate action’ if something does go wrong

There is a brief reporting checklist within the guidance so trustees can ensure that all necessary information has been provided to the Commission.

Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations at the Charity Commission has recently said that  the Commission want charities to treat Serious Incident Reporting as actively managing risks rather than an indication of wrong-doing.  They are sending the message that ‘if you do report, you are acting responsibly and we think you are managing risk’.

It is worth bearing in mind that as part of the Annual Return there is a declaration that there were no serious incidents in the previous financial year that should have been reported to the Commission but were not.  Trustees will be aware that to make a false declaration is an offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011.

The guidance can be found through the following link: