WaterAid referred itself to Charity Commission after death of a child

02 Dec 2021 News

WaterAid referred itself to the Charity Commission three times last year, including after one incident when a child drowned in an uncovered latrine.

The charity stressed that the latrine project was not managed by one of their partners, but was in a community where a partner operated.

WaterAid also contacted the regulator about an attempted sexual assault by a contractor working with one of its partners. The third case related to a breach of its code of conduct.

The charity said that the Commission has “agreed with the steps taken” in every case, and that it has worked to strengthen health and safety measures and the application of safeguarding policies in response to the events.

Information about the incidents was published in WaterAid’s annual accounts for the year ending March 2020-21, which were filed with Companies House last week.

They show that the charity cut spending by just under £10m during the Covid-19 crisis and ended the year with a £4m surplus.

WaterAid thanked supporters and donors for their ongoing generosity during a “turbulent” year. 

Referrals to Charity Commission

A spokesperson for the charity said: “WaterAid reported three cases to the Charity Commission between April 2020 and March 2021, in line with the Charity Commission’s guidance. 

“In West Africa, a child sadly drowned in a pit-latrine inundated due to heavy rainfall. As it happened in a community where a partner of WaterAid was working, we informed the relevant authorities and the Charity Commission. The incident led to a stronger engagement by WaterAid with communities on health and safety measures. 

“In southern Africa a sub-contractor of a WaterAid partner attempted to sexually assault a woman. The case was reported to the Charity Commission and the proper authorities, which led to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator.

“WaterAid has since taken steps to ensure its safeguarding policies are in place not just with its direct partners and contractors, but that they are also reinforced to subcontractors. 

“The third case involved a breach of our code of conduct. In all cases, the Charity Commission agreed with the steps taken.” 

Spending down 11%

The annual report shows that WaterAid’s total spending fell from £95m in 2019-20 to £85.4m in 2020-21, a drop of around 11%.

They acknowledge that the charity was forced to take “hard decisions” to deal with the impact of the pandemic, including cancelling a scheduled cost-of-living wage increase for staff and pausing recruitment to some roles.

Overall expenditure on overseas projects also fell, from around £50.5m to £44.3m, because some international work was suspended as countries locked down in response to the spread of the virus. The accounts said that the charity plans to use some of its annual surplus to ensure ongoing investment in these programmes.

Staff numbers, measured as the total number of full-time employees at the end of the year, fell slightly from 888 to 877, although spending on staff salaries overall rose from £24.8m to £25.4m.

There was a small fall in the salary and benefits paid to chief executive Tim Wainwright, from £133,000 to £128,900.

Events income and retail profits fall

WaterAid’s income also fell slightly, from £91.3m to £89.5m (2%).

Money raised from fundraising events fell by almost two-thirds, from £4.1m to £1.4m, and operational profits from trading were down from £1.4m to just £346,000. Charities all over the country faced a financial impact when they had to cancel nearly all in-person fundraising events and retail activities after March 2020.

Income from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office dropped from £6.4m to £4.8m.

These losses were partly off-set by a £2m rise in income from regular giving, donations and appeals (£44.2m compared with £42.2m) and £220,000 claimed through the government’s furlough programme, which was used for 76 members of staff.

The accounts also said that WaterAid expected to see a sharp increase in legacy income in the next financial year, after Covid-19 delayed the administration of legacy giving in 2020-21.

The charity ended the year with £18m in reserves, above its target range of between £10m and £14m.

The report said: “While some income streams, such as events, were decimated, others, including individuals, companies and philanthropic organisations supported our work with greater generosity than we planned for.

“We are immensely proud of and grateful for this, as it had a direct impact on our response to the [Covid-19] crisis in some of the most difficult circumstances in the countries where we work.”

Editor's note

2 December, 1.25pm - This story was amended to clarify that the latrine project where a child lost their life was not managed by WaterAid's partner but was in a community where that partner operated

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