Regulation with Rosie: New trustees

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on checking out new trustees.

I've been baffled by some of our recently published inquiry reports - the ones involving board members failing to carry out checks on new trustees with previous convictions that make them either unsuitable to work with the charities' vulnerable beneficiaries or to be in position of control over charity funds. In some cases, the charities' funding and reputations have been damaged.

These are extreme examples, but I wonder how many boards view trustee eligibility checks as a best practice idea that's never actually implemented. The Governance Hub's toolkit for trustee eligibility and the commission's own publication, Start As You Mean to Go On, are good starters.

It's understandable that some will feel reluctant to ask for information they consider sensitive, but checking whether a trustee is eligible to serve is a crucial responsibility for any board recruiting a fellow trustee.

Criminal Records Bureau checks will apply in particular cases, but the basic checks in other areas are common sense. Someone with unspent convictions for fraud or dishonesty may well have useful skills the charity could use, but the convictions disqualify them from trusteeship.

This isn't about taking the moral high ground. It is a board's responsibility to ensure background checks are carried out to ensure a new trustee is eligible to serve. Of course, checks should be proportionate to the nature of the trustee's role. CRB checks are legally allowed only when failure to carry them out could lead to a significant risk to vulnerable people.

In many cases, asking new trustees to sign a declaration that they are not disqualified will be sufficient. However you carry out checks, make sure you do it. The consequences of failing to do so can be out of all proportion to the effort involved.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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