The National Autistic Society has admitted it failed to provide the best possible care for some of its beneficiaries after the publication of a safeguarding report that detailed the abuse of residents at one of its facilities.
The review by the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board of Mendip House, a facility on a residential care campus run by the NAS in Somerset, came after a multi-agency investigation sparked by allegations of abuse made by a whistleblower in May 2016.
The Charity Commission said it was engaging with the charity as a matter of urgency.
Mendip House, which at the time of the alleged incidents was home to six adults with severe autism and complex needs, closed in November 2016.
According to the report, the whistleblower alleged that staff repeatedly threw one resident into a public swimming pool, forced residents to eat chillies and regularly pushed, slapped and laughed at them.
The report also referred to allegations of a "laddish culture", with one resident forced to eat an onion by staff, others having food thrown at them and one member of staff putting a ribbon around the neck of a resident and riding him around like a horse.
A group of residents was reimbursed a total of more than £8,000 after being made to pay for staff meals on outings, the report said.
The report called for change at a national level, including a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and the Local Government Association on steps to regulate the commissioning of care placements.
Richard Crompton, independent chair of the SSAB, said: "These reviews are not about apportioning blame; they are about making sure lessons are learned and improvements made.
"This happened to be in Somerset, but the weaknesses in the system are nationwide and must be considered at that level. "
In a statement, Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: "We want to run the best possible residential services for autistic people, where they are safe and can thrive. We are very sorry that in May 2016 it became clear that we had failed to achieve this for the people living at our Mendip House care service, who were not shown proper care and respect and were mistreated by a group of our staff."
He said that after the abuse was brought to light the charity had taken immediate action to ensure resident safety and investigate what went wrong. It had then disciplined and dismissed staff.
After the facility was closed, the charity supported the residents and their home councils to find alternative accommodation.
"All the agencies involved have worked hard to prevent this happening again," Lever said. "Since this situation first came to light almost two years ago, we have continued to examine and improve our own practice."
He said he welcomed the report’s recommendation for national agencies to improve and monitor the safety and quality of care placements.
He said: "We want to take this opportunity to repeat our previous apologies to the residents at Mendip House and to their families for the distress they experienced. We want to reassure them that we share fully the commitment of the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board to making sure that the lessons are learned and that improvements continue to be made across the country."