Regulation with Rosie: Reporting serious incidents

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on reporting serious incidents.

One person's molehill is another's mountain. At the commission we often get complaints about charities that are, frankly, trivial, but about which complainants themselves become almost obsessive. But the flip side of this is much worse - the failure of trustees to let us know about serious problems in their charities at a point when our intervention or advice could actually help.

It's a fairly safe bet that some trustees don't tell us about problems because of their concerns about heavy-handed regulation; news of our increasingly proportionate approach to intervention, focusing on where risks are highest, might not have reached everyone.

So this year we're removing more of the uncertainty by being clearer about how we handle reports of serious incidents, as well as being much more specific about the kinds of issues and sums involved when we ask trustees to report them, either by emailing us or getting in touch with our contact centre. We have also specified that all charities with annual incomes of more than £25,000 must now confirm, in their annual returns, that there are no serious incidents to report. Failing to complete an annual return is a breach of legal requirements.

We have told trustees that they should now tell us about any actual or suspected fraud or theft, regardless of the sums involved. We have also clarified when we expect trustees to report suspicions, allegations and incidents of abuse or mistreatment of beneficiaries.

Guidance for trustees on reporting serious incidents is available on our website. It might encourage trustees who don't already do so to identify potential areas of risk and develop effective ways to manage them.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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