Regulator received almost 1,000 reports of potential harm in just four months

But a report from the Charity Commission says it is worried by the fact that a huge majority of charities have reported no serious incidents in the past four years

The Charity Commission received almost 1,000 reports of incidents involving charities over a four-month period that could have resulted in harm to an adult or child, new figures show. 

A report published today by the regulator sets out the findings of a taskforce the commission established in the wake of the safeguarding scandal in February.

The commission said it would develop a new digital tool for reporting serious incidents, further review its guidance on the reporting of such incidents and pilot a dedicated helpline service for whistleblowers later this year.

The report covers themes that have been well trodden in recent months, such as a large rise in the number of safeguarding incident reports submitted to the commission by charities since February and concerns from the regulator that charities continue to under-report serious incidents.

The report says the commission remains concerned that the overwhelming majority of charities have reported no serious incidents over the past four years.

It says the taskforce carried out a detailed analysis of 1,228 safeguarding reports submitted by charities between 1 February and 31 May in order to better understand the nature of incidents being reported and the types of charity making the report.

It says the reports covered a range of incidents, not just alleged sexual abuse or harassment, including a road accident resulting in serious harm to a child and a service user physically attacking a volunteer.

Of those incidents in which an individual who might have been harmed could be identified, 583 related to children and 395 to adults.

The report says that 29 per cent of the 1,228 reports came from overseas aid or famine-relief charities, the highest share by cause area.

Disability charities and charities carrying out religious activities were next on 12 per cent each.

The report also sets out the results of a "deep dive" of existing safeguarding cases involving charities to determine whether they had been correctly followed up.

It reviewed 5,501 records held by the commission between 1 April 2014 and 20 February this year.

It concluded that there were no cases in which there were serious concerns about either the charity’s or the regulator’s handling of the situation at the time.

The report says the 5,501 reports related to 1,511 charities, or less than 1 per cent of charities on the commission’s register during that time.

It says that 44 charities were responsible for reporting about 55 per cent of the total safeguarding incidents.

The commission says "it seems unlikely that 99.1 per cent of charities did not experience any reportable safeguarding issues over a four-year period".

It also says that 1.5 per cent of charities reported any kind of serious incident at all.

"The work of the taskforce therefore indicates that, despite our work in recent months and years to encourage reporting by charities, we are seeing significant under-reporting," the report says.

It adds that the commission has not always received enough evidence that charities are learning wider lessons from incidents in order to help them avoid similar problems in the future.

Some charities had failed to understand when incidents should be reported and there were examples of incidents that had been played down in their significance or reported to the regulator when it was unnecessary, it says.

It cites the case of a minor accident involving a bus used by several charities in which nobody was injured.

Three different organisations reported the incident to the regulator, the report says, despite there being no suggestion it was not a simply a minor accident.

Sarah Atkinson, director of policy, planning and communications at the Charity Commission, said the regulator welcomed the increase in reporting of serious incidents by some charities in recent months.

"But we’re not convinced that we’re seeing everything we should be," she said.

"Working with charities, we need to bring about a culture change on reporting to ensure charities are safe places, better able to make a difference to people’s lives."

Judith Brodie, interim chief executive of the NGO umbrella body Bond, said: "Today’s report shows that NGOs are getting it right: people feel more confident and comfortable coming forward, but it is also important to note that the commission has found that the NGO sector handled historical cases correctly.

"This is just the beginnin, though, and Bond is working with its members to ensure we see leadership and long-term sustainable change around safeguarding."

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