Avoiding “wrongdoing and harm”: how staff and trustees can protect a charity’s people and reputation

The Charity Commission’s work to protect charities and deal with any wrongdoing or abuse was highlighted in a report it published last month.  The report highlights that safeguarding continues to be a key issue.  We consider how charity trustees can try to meet their safeguarding duties.

A safeguarding incident involves harm to people, assets and/or reputation.  Safeguarding risks are primarily associated with children and vulnerable adults.  However, every charity owes safeguarding duties to all those with whom the charity interacts.  This includes beneficiaries, volunteers and employees.

A failure to meet safeguarding expectations can cause significant harm to individuals and to a charity itself.  Types of harm to a charity may include loss of supporters, a reduction in funds and reputational damage.

To meet their safeguarding duties, charity trustees must ensure that:

  • New trustees are allowed to act as charity trustees;
  • Trustee induction and training programmes cover how to protect the charity, its people, assets and reputation;
  • They are aware of their duties, challenge assumptions and manage resources and risk appropriately;
  • The charity has, and follows, appropriate safeguarding, bullying and harassment and whistleblowing policies;
  • Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) checks are carried out on staff and volunteers if appropriate during the recruitment process;
  • Where necessary, designated staff report concerns about staff and volunteers to the DBS in line with the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006;
  • All staff and volunteers receive training on how to recognise and respond to safeguarding incidents and concerns; and
  • They understand what a ‘serious incident’ is and report any serious incidents to the appropriate regulator. For many higher education institutions, the Office for Students is the relevant regulator.

The above steps provide only a flavour of how trustees can meet their safeguarding responsibilities.  Factors such as the size and nature of the charity in question will influence what other steps trustees should take.

Trustees must take immediate action if they discover an incident has occurred.  The Charity Commission, which regulates numerous charities, recommends that trustees take steps to:

  • prevent or minimise further harm, loss or damage;
  • report the incident to the appropriate regulator as a serious incident if appropriate;
  • report to the police if the trustees consider a crime has been or may have been committed;
  • plan what to say to staff, volunteers, members, the public, the media and other stakeholders such as funders; and
  • review what happened and prevent it from happening again.

Trustees may need advice on how to handle a specific incident and/or on whether an incident is reportable.  They may also benefit from guidance on their communications with their regulator.

Trustees may delegate aspects of their safeguarding responsibilities to staff to carry out on a day to day basis.  However, safeguarding remains the responsibility of the charity’s trustees.  Trustees should therefore remain vigilant in order to protect the charity and those who come into contact with it.


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