Regulator apologises for disproportionate compliance case that 'created stress for trustees'

The Charity Commission has apologised to a whistleblowing charity after a review found aspects of its compliance case “disproportionate” and identified a number of other shortcomings.

In April 2019, trustees of Compassion in Care made a complaint to the regulator about its handling of the case relating to the charity’s governance. 

The charity, which was set up in 2003 to help expose wrongdoing in the care industry, has aims including “relieving the emotional distress of those suffering abuse in care homes” and “educating those working in care homes to recognise and report abuse”. 

The charity operates a whistleblowing hotline, which it said had recorded a 60 per cent increase in calls during the pandemic.

About a month after making its initial complaint, the charity claimed the commission’s nine-month compliance case had “aided and abetted a politically motivated, malicious attack” on the charity.

In a letter, sent last month and seen by Third Sector, the commission expressed its regret that its engagement had left trustees feeling worried and distressed.

The regulator said it undertook a review in line with its complaints procedure, which partially upheld the charity’s complaint and identified a number of specific shortcomings.

These included problems in the tone of its initial correspondence, which incorrectly implied that the commission had already made a judgement on its regulatory concerns, by suggesting that a connection between trustees automatically created a conflict of interest. 

The review also acknowledged the impact of aspects of its case handling on a small charity struggling with increased demand created by the pandemic.

It also found aspects of its case handling to be disproportionate to the level of risk associated with its regulatory concerns and the size of the charity.

The review found no evidence to suggest the case should not have been opened in the first place because of the alleged motivations of those raising the concerns against the charity, or any institutional bias.

The commission said it should uphold the law in a way that takes into account the difficult circumstances volunteer trustees often find themselves in.

It advised trustees how they could request a review under stage two of its complaints procedure and said it was committed to learning the lessons from the case, with findings taken to inform internal caseworker guidance and training.

But Eileen Chubb, the charity’s founder, said some unanswered questions remained.

“Why did the commission go to such lengths? Is any charity that challenges government policy or exposes abuse safe given the implications of this case?” she asked. 

“Given that the malicious allegations caused serious harm, why is the commission allowing proven malicious complaints to be made against charities with impunity?

“It is a criminal offence to submit false evidence to the commission, and the commission's stance is therefore worrying and needs explanation.”

“We intend to have full scrutiny of all the evidence and will fight until we get it. 

A spokesperson for the regulator said: “We apologised to the trustees of Compassion in Care, after a review of their complaint found shortcomings in our case handling, which we acknowledge created additional stress for the trustees of a small charity. 

“Our review concluded it was right for us to examine concerns raised with us about the charity and issue regulatory advice to the trustees, but aspects of our approach were not good enough.”

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