Whilst the Charity Commission empowers charities to manage their own affairs, it is a fact of life that sometimes mistakes will happen. When an incident occurs, the charity must decide whether it is something they need to report to the Charity Commission. This procedure is in place so that the Charity commission can ensure that charities are undertaking their duties responsibly and that they have the ability to manage serious incidents.
What is a serious incident according to the Charity Commission?
In simple terms, a serious incident is defined as one that could lead to significant harm, loss or damage to your charity’s:
- Money or assets
- Reputation or the work it undertakes.
- Beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with your charity through its work
What defines ‘significant’ when reporting to the Charity Commission?
Whether an incident is ‘significant’ depends on several factors. You will need to take into account the size and nature of your charity and its assets. You will also need to consider the financial position as a result of the incident, its reputation, and its impact on staff and volunteers.
If you are in any doubt whatsoever you should report the incident to the Chairty Commission.
Bear in mind that you may also need to report the incident to other agencies, for example if there are safeguarding issues or suspected criminal activity.
What constitutes a serious incident?
There is no defined list of what constitutes a serious incident, but possible examples could include:
- Fraud or theft.
- Abuse of staff, volunteers, or beneficiaries.
- A large data breach – if sensitive information is lost.
- A trustee or senior manager being disqualified from holding that position.
- Major governance changes including mass resignations, or protests.
- Incidents that leave the charity unable to operate.
- Large donations from unknown sources or sources suspected of being linked to criminal activity.
Who makes the report to the Charity Commission?
The responsibility for reporting serious incidents lies with the trustees, though they may delegate this to others in the organisation such as the Chief Executive, or their legal or financial advisers. Remember that the responsibility for reporting lies with all trustees, even if they were not involved in the incident.
When should the report be made?
The report should be made as soon as possible after the incident happens, or the charity becomes aware of it.
As well as reporting the details, you should explain what actions you are taking in response to the incident and how you intend to minimise loss and damage to the charity. Just as importantly you will need to explain how you intend to make sure similar incidents do not happen in future.
The report needs to be as detailed as you can make it. You may want to include:
- Your plans for communicating the issue to staff, volunteers and beneficiaries if necessary.
- Dealing with the media
- Whether you have advised your legal and financial advisers of the incident and what they have said
- Whether other agencies are involved
The report should make it clear who is making the report, their contact details and confirmation that they have been authorised to make the report.
You should keep the Commission updated on progress in relation to managing the incident.
What happens once the incident is reported?
Once the incident is reported, the Charity Commission will review the details and provide you with a refence number. They will assess the risk and report back to you. They may require further information from the trustees or require you to take legal advice.
How Roythornes can help
Our Charites team has extensive experience of helping Charities through incidents of all scales including those being reported to the Charity Commission. If you are a Trustee and suspect that something has happened which may need attention or reporting, please get in touch with our team for an initial chat. It may be nothing to worry about, but it’s better to be sure at the outset and plan appropriate action than assume it’s nothing only for it to later escalate.