Number of serious incident reports made to Charity Commission down by a quarter

The number of serious incident reports filed with the Charity Commission fell by a quarter last year, latest figures show.

The regulator’s annual report, published last week, showed the number of serious incident reports it received was 4,308 in the 12 months to the end of March, compared with 5,730 in the previous year.

Charities in England and Wales are required to tell the commission if they experience an adverse event such as harm to beneficiaries, staff or volunteers, a loss of charitable funds, harm to their work or reputation, or insolvency.

The regulator said there could be several reasons for the fall in the number of reports, including that many charities had curtailed their activities during the coronavirus pandemic so were not carrying out normal work that could give rise to a serious incident.

It said that although the charity sector had been badly affected by the pandemic, the regulator had not yet seen large numbers of charities failing, which would need to be reported to the regulator.

It said the majority of the reports it had received related to protecting people and/or to safeguarding incidents.

“Over the course of the year, we have received 425 reports of serious incidents related specifically to the pandemic, with the most common issue being concerns about long-term financial sustainability, disruption or closure of services or suspension of a charity’s activities,” the report says.

The commission's report says that in the coming year, it plans to update its online serious incident report form to allow charities to submit multiple incidents in a single form.

The regulator’s annual report also shows the commission used its regulatory powers almost 250 more times last year than the year before.

The report says the regulator used its powers 2,209 times in 2020/21, compared with 1,962 times in the previous year.

Asked why this was the case, a commission spokesperson said: “We continue to use our regulatory powers robustly where needed to address wrongdoing and harm in charities; these are exercised when it is proportionate and appropriate to do so in response to the issues we identify in our operational compliance and enforcement work.”

The report says: “Among the powers we use most often are those that help us establish whether wrongdoing has taken place, including powers that allow us to direct charities or third parties to provide documents, accounts or statements.”

The regulator issued 25 official warnings, down from 31 in the previous year, and disqualified 16 trustees, half the number that were disqualified in 2019/20.

The report does not provide comparable year-on-year figures for the number of regulatory action cases concluded or whistleblowing reports, instead providing only 10 months of figures.

The regulator said this was because it changed its case management system and it had not been possible to verify the data for February and March 2021 in time for its annual report.

It said it would publish the figures for February and March 2021 in its annual report next year.

The report says the commission concluded 4,712 regulatory action cases between 1 April 2020 and 31 January 2021. It concluded 6,246 in 2019/20.

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