Guidance: Reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission during the coronavirus pandemic
While the main guidance on serious incident reporting remains in place, the new guidance helpfully highlights to charity trustees that:
- The fact that a charity has to take a particular action, such as the closure of premises, to comply with Government legislation should not be considered notifiable. The impact of such an action on the charity, such as a significant loss of income, however, may result in a serious incident report needing to be made to the Commission.
- The thresholds contained in the main guidance on serious incident reporting which are applicable to losses sustained by a charity not as a result of crime, of an amount in excess of £25,000 or 20 per cent of the charity’s income, do not apply to financial losses arising as a result of the pandemic. Instead, trustees need to consider the significance of the impact of the financial loss to the charity.
Trustees will particularly welcome the inclusion of a further coronavirus pandemic-specific table of examples in the new guidance, setting out examples of situations that the Commission would expect to be notified of as a serious incident, and those that they wouldn’t.
For example, the new table explains that the Commission only expects a charity to report an outbreak of the coronavirus amongst employees, volunteers, trustees or beneficiaries of an operating charity that results in the charity being unable:
- To deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries, as in the case of a residential care home, for example, which has insufficient staff to care for the residents safely as a result of staff illness.
- To continue its normal operations, for example because of the serious illness of a large number of beneficiaries.
It also clarifies that the Commission expects a charity to report incidents involving the ceasing of the charity’s operations (whether as a result either of the coronavirus lockdown, or a decision on the part of the trustees), a loss of income, or the furloughing of staff only if as a result of the incident the charity is:
- Unable to deliver vital services to at risk beneficiaries, and / or
- Is insolvent/forced to close permanently, or
- Is highly likely to be insolvent/forced to close permanently within the next 12 months
Other incidents relating to the coronavirus pandemic included in the new examples table include:
- Scam emails linked to the pandemic and causing loss or harm to the charity
- Fraud linked to the pandemic
- The investigation of a charity, either by HMRC for alleged abuse of the furlough scheme or by the police for alleged breach of government lockdown measures
- An allegation of significant harm being suffered by an employee of the charity as a result of their working conditions during the pandemic
- An allegation of abuse of a beneficiary by a charity’s employee or volunteer during the pandemic
The guidance also provides a reminder to trustees that:
- While they can delegate responsibility for reporting serious incidents using the Commission’s online form to others, such as employees, ultimate responsibility for ensuring such reports are made as appropriate remains with the trustees.
- If trustees consider whether an incident should be reported as a serious incident to the Commission, but decide against it, they should make sure they record both their decision and their reasons for making it.
Whether or not a serious incident is reportable to the Commission is still very much a matter for the trustees of a charity, and any decision as to the impact of an incident on a charity will need to be made by the trustees taking into account all the relevant facts applicable to their charity and having obtained any appropriate professional advice.
It is to be hoped, however, that this new guidance from the Commission will help trustees come to the decisions they are now having to make about whether or not to report incidents linked to the coronavirus pandemic to the Commission.