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20th June 2018

Safeguarding charity beneficiaries

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Charities exist to benefit those to whom they provide assistance, who are often the most vulnerable in society. The notion of charities being a safe environment for those in need is, at the very least, challenged by allegations or incidents of abuse by individuals associated with a charity. The effectiveness and reputation of charities are no longer to be assumed. Addressing the effect of abuse on victims in any particular instance and taking steps to prevent future incidents are, of course, the immediate priority. But any allegation of abuse has wider implications for a charity. It raises the need to ensure that risk management is robust throughout the charity.

As reactions to recent revelations in well known charities demonstrate, the failure of a charity to safeguard those it serves threatens to undermine the reputation of the charity (and the wider sector). This has obvious potential implications for reduced donation income, the future funding of projects and, conceivably, the viability of the charity itself.

Essential reading for charity trustees is the updated guidance from the Charity Commission of which key points are:

Duty to safeguard beneficiaries - Trustees should proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries. This means:

  • protecting the rights of adults to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect; and
  • protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of health or development; ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable them to have the best outcomes.
Trustees must take reasonable steps to ensure that their beneficiaries or others who come into contact with their charity do not, as a result, come to harm.

Recruitment of trustees and staff - Charities have a responsibility to make sure that trustees, employees and volunteers are suitable to work with children and vulnerable adults; that appropriate checks from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) are obtained; and that they are legally eligible to act in these positions. Charities engaged in regulated activity (generally, unsupervised activities with children or vulnerable adults) have particular obligations, for example a duty to refer to the DBS when an employer or organisation believes a person has caused harm or poses a future risk of harm to vulnerable groups.

Responding to allegations and safeguarding incidents - Trustees must react responsibly to reports of safeguarding risks and incidents of abuse and take steps to make sure they and the people working in the charity know how to deal with these. This includes having adequate systems in place to:

  • manage initial reports;
  • identify and manage risk, including where necessary making reports to and liaising with the police, social services and other agencies, including the Charity Commission as a serious incident report, whilst ensuring that they do not undermine the work of investigating authorities by leading potential witnesses or contaminating evidence; and
  • record and store reports securely and in accordance with relevant legislation.
Safeguarding policies - The contents and detail of a charity’s safeguarding policy will depend on the charity’s activities and the level of risk. This risk will be higher where activities involving children or vulnerable adults are central to the charity’s core purposes and services, or take place frequently. The policy should always include requirements for trustees, staff and volunteers to learn about protection issues in accordance with the relevant statutory guidance and within the context of their own roles and responsibilities.

Charity Commission - Any failure by trustees to manage safeguarding risks adequately would be of serious regulatory concern to the Commission. It may consider this to be misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity and it may also be a breach of trustee duty. The Commission has powers to intervene and take action to set right any significant issues.

The Charity Commission has stated that safeguarding is a high priority for all charities. Naturally, trustees will want to ensure they give this area their greatest focus. If there is anything we can help with on these issues please contact Chris Knight.