Number of serious incident reports received by the Charity Commission up by almost 50 per cent

The number of serious incidents reported to the Charity Commission grew by almost 50 per cent in the past year to more than 5,700, latest figures show. 

The regulator’s annual report, published today, includes a rise of almost 1,000 in the number of safeguarding incidents reported to the regulator over the course of the year, to more than 3,400.

The number of whistleblowing reports and the commission’s use of its powers also increased over the year to the end of March 2020, the report reveals. 

This increase in regulatory activity follows a trend set by last year’s report, which said 2018/19 had been the commission’s “busiest year ever”

But the 2019/20 report shows last year was even busier, with the number of serious incident reports growing from 3,895 last year to 5,730 this year - an increase of 47 per cent. 

Of these, 3,411 (60 per cent) of these were related to safeguarding, a similar proportion to last year, but up by almost a 1,000 incidents in actual terms, from 2,493 in 2018/19. 

Meanwhile whistleblowing reports were up by more than a third (34 per cent) from 185 to 247. 

The report says the commission had strengthened its approach to dealing with reports of serious incidents from charities, through a new online form for reporting, which made it quicker and easier to determine whether a report requires further regulatory action and reduced the burden on charities. 

It also said the commission aimed to respond to serious incident reports within 10 days, but was currently managing to reduce the time down to three working days.

On whistleblowing, the report says this year the commission had “made it a priority to improve the way we communicate” with whistleblowers, through its whistleblowing helpline and dedicated in-house team, which ensured all whistleblowers received a phone call and were updated on the outcome of their report. 

The commission also used its regulatory powers more times in 2019/20, up from 1,864 to 1,962, according to the report. It issued 55 per cent more official warnings to charities this year than last year (up from 20 to 31) and used its powers to disqualify 32 people from being trustees, up 45 per cent on the year before. 

It also estimates that the commission helped an additional 6,000 charities by answering an extra 12,000 calls to its helpline. 

The report also addresses the impact of the coronavirus crisis, which it said had “triggered a short-term shift in our operational priorities”, such as ensuring it dealt swiftly with permissions case work, such as requests to change a charity’s objects, to allow charities to respond to the pandemic and reducing short-term regulatory hurdles that could prevent charities responding to urgent need.

It says the regulator had produced additional guidance and had held weekly meetings with sector representative bodies to understand better the specific challenges for the sector.

In her introduction to the report, Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “This year, we have sought to open up our services to more customers: we want people to come to us. 

“Only with the involvement and engagement of charities and the public will we ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust. 

“This openness is reflected in improvements to the services provided in our contact centre, our handling of whistleblowing reports, and in our changed approach to receiving and assessing serious incident reports from charities.

“The pandemic continues to place great strain on the charity sector,” said Stephenson. 

“Many charities are facing financial and operational pressures, which the commission cannot alleviate, I hope that our pragmatic response to the Covid-19 pandemic is making a modest contribution to the resilience of the sector as a whole.”

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