The Essential Trustee - Charity Commission launches new serious incident reporting form


19 June 2019

When a serious incident takes place within a charity, the charity’s trustees must report it to the Charity Commission in a timely manner. 

In the wake of recent scandals and safeguarding issues, the Commission has now revised its guidance on serious incident reports.

What are the key changes?

The Charity Commission now provides more detailed guidance on its website, setting out how to report a serious incident. Additionally, instead of making a serious incident report by email, there is now a dedicated online form for reporting or updating the Commission on serious incidents.

The dedicated online form is very comprehensive. You will be asked to provide information about the charity and your status within it. You will then be asked to provide information about the type of incident, relevant dates and whether the incident is now over or still ongoing. The Commission will want to know whether you have a strategy in place for dealing with the press and will then ask for specific details of the incident, the risk of harm present and the impact. Crucially, the Commission will also require details of your response to the incident and what preventative measures you have implemented to stop the same incident reoccurring.

What does the Commission consider to be a ‘serious incident’?

The Commission interprets this very broadly. Due to recent high profile safeguarding incidents within some large charities, protecting people and safeguarding is one of the most well known categories. However, financial crime (such as fraud and serious theft), suspicious donations, links to terrorism, serious governance issues or anything that has the potential to seriously damage the charity, its beneficiaries or its reputation are all reportable serious incidents.  

The Commission has published an examples table which provide examples of what the Commission considers should be reported and what should not be reported. If in doubt, you should always ‘err’ on the side of caution and make a report.

Why make a serious incident report and what should I include?

Charity trustees are required to make a serious incident report to the Charity Commission and should do so as soon as possible after the incident has been discovered. A member of staff may prepare and submit the report on the trustees’ behalf, but the trustees should have full oversight and approve the report before it is submitted.

The Commission’s new online form means that there is a clear framework in place for what information should be provided to the Commission. Strong emphasis should be placed on telling the Commission how the charity has responded to the incident and what steps are being put in place at both management and strategic levels to mitigate risk and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

What will happen after I make a serious incident report?

Once you have submitted the report, the Commission will review its contents. In many cases, you will not hear anything from the Commission, in which case nothing further is required from the charity.

In some circumstances, the Commission might get in touch to ask further questions or to provide regulatory guidance. In serious cases and when the Commission believes the trustees have not responded to the incident appropriately, the Commission may use its regulatory powers to step in and take action to protect the charity.

In summary

Serious incident reports are extremely important and all trustees and senior staff at your charity should read the Charity Commission’s guidance and be aware of when a report may be required. It is always preferable to make a report to the Commission as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the Commission to discover the issue from another source.

Trustees should not be afraid to make serious incident reports - they play an important part in appropriately managing risk for your charity.

If your charity is dealing with a serious incident and requires professional support and assistance, the Charities and Social Enterprise Team at Birketts can help. We have significant experience assisting clients with making serious incident reports, so please do get in touch with Liz Brownsell or another member of the team for an initial confidential discussion. 

The content of this article is from the August 2019 edition of The Essential Trustee and is for general information only. For further information please contact Liz Brownsell. Law covered as at August 2019.