The Charity Commission has said that too few charities inform it when they experience a serious incident, and published new guidance on the subject.
How to report a serious incident in your charity has been issued as a replacement for previous guidance. It outlines types of serious incidents and includes a checklist for trustees.
A serious incident is described by the Commission as an “adverse event, actual or alleged, which results in harm to a charity’s work, beneficiaries or reputation; the loss of a charity’s money or assets, or damage to a charity’s property”.
According to the Commission there is “significant underreporting” of serious incidents which can lead to further harm such as reputational damage.
Last year, charities reported 2,181 incidents to the Commission. Some 55 per cent related to safeguarding, a third to internal (‘insider’) fraud, and 14 per cent related to external fraud or money laundering.
Charities are no longer required to file a serious incident report to say that they do not have a safeguarding policy because it is now covered by the annual return.
Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communication at the Commission, said: “Trustees cannot always foresee or prevent a serious event arising in their charity. What they should do, however, is to act responsibly and quickly when something does go seriously wrong, taking steps to limit risk and protect their charity from further harm.
"Making an incident report to the Commission is one of the most important ways trustees can demonstrate that they are doing just that. Our updated guidance helps charity trustees understand when and how to submit a report.”
She added: ““We remain concerned about significant underreporting of serious incidents to the Commission. Too often, our casework shows that an incident could and should have been reported to us at a much earlier stage.
"I urge trustees to act quickly and responsibly in reporting serious incidents as soon as they occur, using the dedicated reporting facility at [email protected]”
The Commission launched a consultation and published a draft version of the guidance in October 2016.
It received over 50 responses to the consultation and has published a summary of responses.
As a result of the feedback, it made a number of changes, including making clear that the statutory duty to report only applies to the annual return rather than immediately informing the regulator, and clarifying some wording around loss of funding and media attention.
The Charity Finance Group, which was one of the bodies to call for changes to parts of the guidance, described the final version as “much improved”.
Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at CFG, said: ““We are very happy that the Charity Commission has engaged in this consultation and has taken on board the concerns that Charity Finance Group and Small Charities Coalition laid out in our joint response. This guidance is much improved as a consequence and will help charities to better understand their responsibilities.
"It is critical that we get the right balance between ensuring the Commission has the information it needs to do its job and minimising the reporting burden on the charity sector. This improved guidance does that.”