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Law, rules and duties

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Working with the general public

All voluntary organisations that work with the general public need to be aware of their safeguarding responsibilities under the law.

The Charity Commission has produced detailed safeguarding guidance that sets out the specific responsibilities for voluntary organisations. Even if your charity is unregistered, you are expected to follow the guidance and treat safeguarding children and adults at risk as a priority. This applies to all charities, even if you do not specifically work with children or adults at risk. The guidance is also good practice even if your organisation is not a charity, because these are standards the public will expect.

Following the guidance will also contribute to keeping your staff and volunteers safer, because it contains information on bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment).

How you meet your safeguarding duty should be related to the size and scale of your organisation, what it does and who it works with. The more you work with groups who are at risk and protected in law, the more detailed and thorough your plans must be. This is often referred to as proportionality in safeguarding.

The more you carry out activities which could cause harm, the more you need to show you are managing these risks.

Working with children

If you work with under 18s, your charity must follow the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance.

The guidance sets out expectations for your organisation, staff and volunteers. It makes your responsibilities to safeguard children and promote their welfare clear. It also explains what your staff and volunteers must do if they have concerns about a child.

There are several pieces of legislation but the most important are The Children Acts 1989 and 2004. These acts detail the legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That duty is placed on everyone and the acts state we should all work together.

If you deliver a service on behalf of a public organisation, such as the NHS, the police, a school or the local council, you’ll have extra legal duties to safeguard children and promote their welfare.

Working with adults at risk

If you work with adults at risk you are expected to follow the guidance from The Charity Commission. You must also work with the local authority. This is because local authorities hold the main legal duty to safeguard adults at risk. This requirement comes from The Care Act 2014. All local authorities have a safeguarding adults board (SAB) that leads safeguarding in its area.

Local authorities must work with others to make sure adults at risk are safe from harm, abuse and neglect. All local authorities will provide information on their website about what to do and who to contact if you are worried that somebody is being harmed or abused. You should familiarise yourself with this section of your local authority’s website and make sure your staff and volunteers know where to find this information as you work on your safeguarding policies and procedures.

Adults at risk have the right of choice and control over their own decisions and this is protected by law. As well as The Care Act, The Mental Capacity Act 2005 protects people's right to make their own decisions in any situation where they are able to do so.

Working with people at risk of involvement in terrorism

The Charity Commission requires all charities to prevent abuse for extremist purposes.

There are several laws which aim to prevent involvement in terrorism. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 includes the ‘prevent duty’ which requires some bodies to show they are preventing people being drawn into terrorism. Some charities, like educational charities, are required to meet this duty and must follow specific Prevent Duty guidance.

Local authorities must have a Channel Panel which bring together police and other services to offer support and provide help to ensure children and adults are not drawn into violent radicalisation or becoming involved into terrorist related activity.

Working with people experiencing domestic abuse

People experiencing domestic abuse are entitled to support and protection. Domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. It includes physical or sexual abuse; violent or threatening behaviour; controlling or coercive behaviour; economic abuse; psychological, emotional or other abuse. Children are recognised as victims in their own right where they see or hear, or experience the effects of domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 defines domestic abuse and places duties on local authorities to assess the need for accommodation-based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within its area. This would include refuges and short-stay accommodation. A Domestic Abuse Local Partnership Board made up of local authorities, victims and their children, domestic abuse charities or voluntary organisations and others advise the local authority on their support to victims of domestic abuse.

Getting started

The best way to get started with safeguarding depends on what your role is and who your organisation works with. Here are some starting points for different situations.

Last reviewed: 28 June 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 28 June 2021

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