Charity Commission raises concerns about low levels of serious incident reporting

Written by Joe Lepper

Too many charities are still failing to report serious safeguarding incidents, the Charity Commission has warned.

A report by the regulator’s interim taskforce on safeguarding says that just 0.9% of charities reported a safeguarding incident since 2014. Over the same period only 1.5% of charities submitted any kind of serious incident report.

The regulator also found that only 44 charities were responsible for reporting more than half (55%) of the total safeguarding incidents since 2014.

“We accept that there may be a significant proportion of charities that do not experience safeguarding incidents, or only experience such incidents very rarely, due to the nature of their work,” states the taskforce’s report.

“However, it seems unlikely that 99.1% of charities did not experience any reportable safeguarding issues over a 4 year period.

“The work of the taskforce therefore indicates that, despite our work in recent months and years to encourage reporting by charities, we are seeing significant under-reporting.”

The report includes a detailed analysis of 1,228 safeguarding reports received between 1 February and 31 May this year.

The top five types of charities that submitted reports were overseas aid and famine relief (29%), disability (12%), religious activities (12%), education and training (12%) and younger people (11%).

The majority of reports related to concerns or incidents related to potential harm to individuals, such as sexual abuse or harassment.

Of these, 47.5% related to harming a child, while 32% were incidents involved an adult victim, with the remaining involving a victim where the age was not specificed.

“The public rightly expect charities to demonstrate the highest standards of ethical behaviour and attitude,” said Charity Commission director of policy, planning and communications Sarah Atkinson.

“That includes taking action when something has gone badly wrong, or when there’s been a near miss.

“Making a serious incident report to the Commission is not in itself an admission of wrongdoing or failure. Quite the reverse: it demonstrates that a charity is responding properly to incident or concern.

“So we welcome the increase in reporting by some charities, especially international aid charities that appear to have improved their reporting since February’s revelations.

“But we’re not convinced that we’re seeing everything we should be. Working with charities, we need to bring about a culture change on reporting to ensure charities are safe places, better able to make a difference to people’s lives.”

The taskforce was set up as part of the Commission’s response to safeguarding scandals involving Oxfam and Save the Children in February.

Despite concerns of under reporting, the taskforce’s report does show a rise in reports over the last two years and particularly this year since the scandals emerged.

Charities submitted a total of 2,114 reports of serious safeguarding incidents between 20 February and 30 September this year, compared to 1,580 during the whole of 2017/18 and 1,203 in 2016/17.

The taskforce also carried out a “deep-dive” review of 5,500 historic safeguarding reports over the last four years, to look for possibly gaps in information disclosed.

But the report says that none of these historic cases have given rise to serious or urgent concerns about the way the charity involved responded or the Commission’s handling of them at the time.

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