Safeguarding revisited – how does your charity fare?

The last year has seen changes to how – and who – charities must safeguard. And more changes are afoot………


Safeguarding is usually thought of, by reference to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, as protecting children and vulnerable adults, particularly in the context of carrying on various “regulated activities”, as defined in the Act. But recently the Charity Commission has sought to broaden the scope of safeguarding in the charity sector and changes are also underway which will affect NGOs in the humanitarian sector.

The Charity Commission

Serious incident reporting

The Charity Commission’s guidance on how to report a serious incident in your charity, updated in September 2017, refers not only to children and vulnerable adults, but more widely to beneficiaries generally. In particular, it makes clear that charities should submit a report if a beneficiary (whether an adult or a child) has been, or is alleged to have been, abused or mistreated while under the care of the charity, or by someone connected with the charity, for example a trustee, staff member or volunteer.

Charity Commission’s safeguarding strategy

The guidance also refers to the Charity Commission’s strategy for dealing with safeguarding issues in charities updated in December 2017 and August 2018. The strategy also broadens the scope of safeguarding, stating that 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.” That would therefore include the trustees themselves, staff and volunteers as well as beneficiaries, their family and those who live in the charity’s areas of operation.

Regulatory alert

In December 2017 the Charity Commission circulated a regulatory alert to charities following a number of serious incidents reported to the Commission, and media reporting about misconduct by Oxfam’s workers and volunteers in Haiti. The alert stated that “safeguarding should be a key governance priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered

at risk” and stressed the importance of “providing a safe and trusted environment which safeguards anyone who comes into contact with it including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers” and “setting an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding so that it is safe for those affected to come forward and report incidents and concerns with the assurance they will be handled sensitively and properly.” Finally, the alert reminded trustees that their failure “to manage safeguarding risks would be of serious regulatory concern to the Commission. [The Commission] 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.”

Suite of steps on safeguarding

In February 2018 the Charity Commission announced a suite of measures to help ensure charities learn the wider lessons from recent safeguarding revelations involving Oxfam, the Presidents Club Charitable Trust and other charities, and to strengthen public trust and confidence in charities.

This included the establishment of a new taskforce to handle the increase in serious incident reports relating to safeguarding as well as plans for better co-ordination on safeguarding with government departments, including the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), the police and local authority social services.

In addition, the announcement referred to two summits, which took place in March 2018: a joint DfID/Charity Commission safeguarding summit for charities and umbrella bodies working internationally and a second one for charities and umbrella bodies working in the UK. There is a further International Safeguarding Conference planned for this October.

Changes affecting NGOs working in the humanitarian sector

At the March summit DfID announced a series of steps to tackle safeguarding issues in the area of international aid. In particular, in June 2018 DfID introduced Enhanced Due Diligence – Safeguarding standards for organisations it works with, and funding will depend on meeting those standards. The House of Commons International Development Committee also launched an inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, which is entirely separate from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The Committee has as a result issued its report “ Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector (Eighth Report of Session 2017-19)”.

Government strategy on safeguarding children and tackling child abuse

In July 2018 the Government published its updated statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children building on changes to multi-agency arrangements under the Children and Social Work Act 2017, and separate guidance on transitional arrangements.

In March 2018 the Government also outlined strengthened plans to tackle child abuse, including by improving information sharing between the police, social workers and healthcare professionals.

What to do?

In this light, many charities will likely need to comprehensively review their safeguarding policies and procedures as well as how safeguarding is dealt with in the context of HR policies, whistleblowing and complaints, for example, as well as taking steps to actively monitoring their implementation and how they can be improved going forwards.

The measures put in place should be proportionate to the size of the charity and the risks arising from the charity’s activities. But that means the trustees must first have considered what risks may arise, their likelihood and impact and how they could be mitigated.

In addition, does your charity also have procedures in place to make serious incident reports to the Charity Commission and any other statutory regulators (e.g. Care Quality Commission), as required?

More generally, trustees should review the Charity Commission’s safeguarding strategy and its guidance on reporting serious incidents so that they understand the law and what is expected of them as a matter of best practice.

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