Last week, we hosted a seminar in our Liverpool office on the subject of charities and safeguarding. This seminar came a month after the Charity Commission issued its updated guidance (see below) on safeguarding - guidance updated largely as a result of the headlines that hit the aid sector earlier this year.
Despite the appalling weather, the seminar was well attended - reflecting the focus of the charity sector on safeguarding matters. What follows here is a summary of the matters discussed...
It was my job to discuss the Charity Commission's updated guidance and I began with a brief recap on the crisis that swept the charity sector (or more particularly, the international aid sector) as a result of the headline in The Times on 9 February 2018 - Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti Survivors for sex.
I discussed the steps taken by the Charity Commission who opened statutory inquiries into Oxfam, and later Save the Children, as well as the various recommendations that have come out of summit organised by the Department for International Development and reports published by the International Development Committee. These recommendations include the establishment of an international aid sector regulator or ombudsman and it will be interesting to see how this develops.
In terms of more recent developments, I discussed the results of the work Charity Commission's internal safeguarding taskforce and the "deep dive" it had undertaken in order to fully assess the nature of serious incident reports that had been sent to the Commission in the aftermath of the newspaper headlines.
Attention then turned to the updated Commission guidance. We discussed the 10 "actions" that the Commission has identified in its guidance as being steps that every charity should take in relation to safeguarding and the point was made that safeguarding extends to more than they types of issues that were present in the Oxfam case. The Commission has identified a number of safeguarding risks in its guidance including bullying and harassment, negligent treatment of beneficiaries, a poor culture, the abuse of positions of trust and other less high profile risks such as health and safety issues.
The existence and appropriateness of policies and procedures features heavily in the guidance and charities are advised in the guidance to ensure that policies and procedures are kept under regular review so as to ensure their fitness for purpose. Much is also made of the culture within a charity in respect of safeguarding matters and tools such as the Charity Governance Code and NCVO's draft Code of Ethics are recommended reading for any charity trustee or senior manager seeking guidance on this point.
I finished my segment with a review of the various regulatory powers available to the Commission. The Commission states in its guidance that "If things go wrong we will check if you followed this guidance and the law". It is certainly possible therefore that the Commission may consider a failure to follow this updated guidance as evidence of misconduct or mismanagement which opens the door to the use of the Commission's regulatory powers, including the opening of statutory inquiries, the issue of official warnings and the removal of charity trustees.
The seminar concluded with Robert Nieri, our new Charities Partner, discussing the Charity Commission's serious incident reporting regime. Robert discussed the mechanics of making a report and also discussed a number of case studies with reference to the Commission rather useful list of examples of the types of incident the Commission expects charities to report.
To summarise, safeguarding is now (more so than it was prior to this year) a priority for the Charity Commission. It is an issue that impacts significantly upon public trust and confidence in charities and the Commission's updated guidance presents safeguarding as a fundamental issue for all charities to properly manage.
Our slides, along with links to other sources of information, have been sent to those who had signed up for the event. If anyone else would like those slides or a discussion about safeguarding matters, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Protecting people and safeguarding responsibilities should be a governance priority for all charities. As part of fulfilling your trustee duties, you must take reasonable steps to protect people who come into contact with your charity from harm.