Charity Commission opens formal inquiry into National Bullying Helpline

Watchdog makes an order preventing the charity disclosing confidential information about callers

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into the National Bullying Helpline because of concerns about the charity's protection of confidential information and its referral of callers to a business connected with one of the trustees.

The helpline has been at the centre of the row about alleged bullying by the Prime Minister after its co-founder, Christine Pratt, said people working in No 10 Downing Street had called the helpline. This was criticised as a breach of confidence by other charities.

The charity suspended its service earlier in the week but has now put a statement on its website saying it has resumed. A statement from the commission, however, says it understands the trustees have suspended the service.

The commission statement said the inquiry was a response to increasing public concern about the charity, including more than 160 complaints received by the commission this week. It has made an order preventing the transmission or disclosure of information by the charity, including details of the confidential calls it has received, without the permission of the commission.

"The commission has a statutory responsibility to promote public trust and confidence in charities and is aware of the potential impact on other charities that run confidential helplines," the statement said. "The focus of the inquiry is to ensure the trustees continue to protect this confidential and sensitive information.

"The inquiry will also cover other issues within our remit, relating to the charity's policies and procedures on data protection and confidentiality of information gathered during the course of its work, and issues surrounding referrals understood to have been made by the charity to a business connected with one of its trustees.

"We are aware that the trustees have suspended the operation of the helpline and indicated they are independently considering the future of the charity. It is also important to give an assurance to the public and the charity's beneficiaries of the protection of sensitive information."

The commission said its inquiry related to the proper discharge of the duties and responsibilities of the trustees of the charity. Possible breaches of data protection and privacy law, including the public disclosure or use of personal data, were a matter for the Information Commissioner's Office.

The order preventing disclosure of details of calls has been made under the Charity Commission's powers to order a person holding property on behalf of a charity not to part with it without permission. The commission also has wide-ranging powers under charity law to censure or remove trustees and appoint interim managers to run a charity.

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