Concerns over misconduct in Oxfam shops, says whistleblower

13 Feb 2018 News

Oxfam shop

Matt Jerwood

Oxfam’s former safeguarding chief has warned that sexual abuse is being reported in the charity’s shops and said that the charity and regulators are not doing enough to address the problem.

Helen Evans, head of global safeguarding from 2012 to 2015, said in an interview with Channel 4 News broadcast yesterday evening that there had been incidents of abuse involving volunteers, some under 18, reported at Oxfam’s charity shops during her tenure.

There have been more than 100 reports of allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct in Oxfam’s UK trading division since 2013, with the number increasing year-on-year.

According to the charity’s latest accounts, for the year to March 2017, 52 allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct were reported from its UK-based trading division during the year.

This figure was more than double the 23 allegations reported the previous year, while there were 17 such reports made in 2014/15 and 16 the year before that.

In her interview, Evans spoke about one particular case of an adult volunteer assaulting a child volunteer during her tenure, which she said went to court.

Evans said the shop manager put pressure on the volunteer not to go to the police.

She said the shop manager was ultimately dismissed but she felt “it was challenging to get the right outcome”.

In a written statement posted on Twitter after the interview, Evans said the charity received three allegations of child abuse in its shops in January 2015.

‘Extraordinary loophole’

In the interview, Evans said she raised concerns about Oxfam not conducting Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks with the charity, government and regulatory bodies.

She said: “That troubled me because I knew Oxfam was not conducting the criminal record checks that it needed to conduct, that children were being left alone with adults who hadn’t been criminal record checked.

“And that is something that afterwards I took to the Charity Commission. I took to the Children’s Commissioner. I took to the Home Office. And at that time the Home Office and the Charity Commission were saying that because it was retail, it was okay not to have those checks.”

Evans described the fact that it was not supposedly a requirement for charity shops staff to have a DBS check, as an “extraordinary loophole”.

“Oxfam and all the charity shops, people trust. People trust them because they are charities. And the point I made repeatedly are parents are trusting these organisations to keep their children safe when they volunteer.

“These are 14-year-old children and if parents knew that those adults were not checked, they would not be sending their children into those shops.”

Charity response

Oxfam published a statement following Evans’ interview saying that it had introduced standard DBS checks for all shop managers and deputy managers but it does not say this requirement extends to volunteers.

It said standards requirements were introduced in 2012 and “extended to the enhanced level in 2014 and from 2015 retrospectively to all managers”.

The charity also said it has been providing safeguarding and security training for shop managers since January 2013, with a full roll-out ongoing since 2015.

It said: “This resulted in a dramatic improvement in the ability of shop teams to recognise potential safeguarding issues, and an increase in the number of reported cases.

“All 900 shop and deputy shop managers are now required to have enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks, this would uncover the same data as Police National Checks e.g. any spent and unspent convictions, cautions and warnings held by police forces and children and/or adult’s barred lists.

“We take references for all volunteers and we have seven dedicated HR staff who help deliver the training and support to our shops, in conjunction with our area managers.”

Civil Society News has asked Oxfam to confirm whether it requires volunteers to be DBS checked.


Regulators respond

A spokesman for the Children’s Commissioner for England told Civil Society News that Evans had contacted the regulator indirectly through her MP, Andrew Smith.

The spokesman said Smith had not raised any details about individual cases but that the regulator had recommended at the time that “people who supervise children in charity shops should be DBS checked”.

He said: “The MP said I’m raising on behalf of my constituent concerns about the levels at which shop workers are checked.

“And we thought that was a broadly fair comment and we would highly recommend that the adherence was anyone in day to day supervision of children is DBS checked.”

The Charity Commission, meanwhile, also said Evans had not reported concerns about specific incidents to the regulator in 2015.

Civil Society News asked the Commission and the Home Office to confirm what was said to Evans in 2015 regarding shops workers needing a DBS check.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "A shop volunteer does not necessarily require a DBS check but could do if their role included the supervision of children who were also volunteering in the shop, for example.

"The framework for eligibility for DBS checks is set out in legislation and relates to what the role involves and/or the circumstances in which it is performed, and includes roles working closely with children or other vulnerable groups.

"It is the responsibility of an employer to determine if a DBS check is required for a particular role or activity."

"Any employer is entitled to ask potential employees about unspent convictions and any individual is entitled to apply for a Basic Criminal Records Check for this or any other purpose."


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