Charity helplines 'need regulation to restore the public trust'

The Helplines Association calls for compulsory accreditation after bullying furore

The Helplines Association is calling for compulsory regulation of charity helplines in the wake of the furore over the apparent breach of confidentiality by the National Bullying Helpline last week.

The helpline's founder, Christine Pratt, attracted widespread criticism for saying staff at No 10 Downing Street had contacted it for support. The Charity Commission has started a formal inquiry and banned the charity from revealing any further information about callers.

Rekha Wadhwani, chief executive of THA, which has 500 members, said accreditation and regulation by an external body was necessary to restore public trust in charity helplines.

She estimated that 500 helplines, most of them run by charities, were not members of The Helplines Association. "All of our charity members have been brought into disrepute because of Christine Pratt's decision to disclose to the media confidential information held by the National Bullying Helpline," she said.

"Some are saying their volunteers no longer want to work for them. Trust is a fragile thing, and to restore it we need a system that reassures the public about confidentiality."

Wadhwani said one possibility might be to deny charitable status to organisations with helplines that did not conform to certain quality standards. She said she was seeking a meeting with the Charity Commission to discuss the idea.

A commission spokeswoman said it would be a matter for trustees to decide whether a charity should join an organisation that required helplines to conform to codes of practice. Many charities were members of such professional or umbrella bodies, and this could improve the quality of service they provided, she said.

Clara Mackay, director of operations and marketing communications at the Prostate Cancer Charity, which runs a helpline, said she agreed that tighter regulation was needed.

"Many helplines are naive about confidentiality, perhaps because they aren't aware of the voluntary codes of practice they could sign up to," she said. "As long as it wasn't too costly or restricting, a compulsory system of regulation for helplines would help the sector to adhere to high standards."

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