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A charity’s duty to report safeguarding issues

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As a general principle, there are limited circumstances where there is a legal duty on individuals to report an incident or crime.

That being said, the Charity Commission expects individuals involved in charities, and in particular trustees, to act in the wider public interest and promptly report any crimes, serious incidents or other types of misconduct (and, in particular abuse, neglect or exploitation) to the relevant bodies. These bodies include the police, social services and the Charity Commission itself.

Charities also have a duty to inform the Commission of ‘serious incidents’, which would include many safeguarding situations. When completing their annual return, any charity with an income of £25,000 or more is required to declare that there are no ‘serious incidents or other matters’ that should have been brought to the Charity Commission’s attention and weren’t.

It’s a criminal offence to provide false or misleading information to the Charity Commission, including in the annual return. So, it’s important to develop policies and processes that help your organisation record and report any serious incidents to the Commission and other relevant authorities.

The Charity Commission’s guidance on how to report a serious incident in your charity provides guidance on when and how to report serious incidents.

If your organisation operates outside of England, it’s important to understand that the laws around reporting vary across the UK.

  • In Northern Ireland, the law states that all citizens are bound to report illegal activity: it’s a criminal offence to fail to disclose any arrestable offence to the police (section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967).
  • In Wales, certain statutory bodies have a duty to inform the local authority if they suspect that a child in its area is a child at risk (section 130, Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014). These duties can be passed to organisations through their contracts with a statutory body.

There are also specific laws that your organisation might need to adhere to, depending on the type of work you do. There’s more detailed information about this below.

Duties of all charities to report safeguarding incidents

Duty to confirm all serious incidents have been reported before submitting an annual return

Every financial year, registered charities must submit an annual return to the Charity Commission.

Before submitting their annual return, charities with an income of £25,000 or more are required to declare that there were no serious incidents during the previous financial year that should have been reported to the Commission but were not. If incidents did occur, but weren’t reported at the time, you should submit these before you file your charity’s annual return, so you can make the declaration. This should also be done by charities with incomes under the £25,000 threshold.

Reference: Section 169 of the Charities Act 2011

Charities should make a prompt, full and frank disclosure of any serious incident.

The Charity Commission has published a table of examples of serious incidents, to help you understand what needs to be reported. The first section of the table lists examples of safeguarding incidents.

The Charity Commission also expects organisations that are accountable to other regulators (such as those providing care or education services) to comply with the reporting requirements of those regulators too. This may include reporting the incident to the police or donors.

The charity should tell the Commission which other agencies it has reported the incident to.

Reference: Charity Commission guidance: How to report a serious incident in your charity

Reference: Charity Commission examples table: Deciding what to report

The Charity Commission also expects a charity to file a serious incident report when an incident has occurred involving one of the charity’s partners, in the UK or internationally.

A serious incident is an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:

  • harm to your charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with your charity through its work
  • loss of money or assets
  • damage to your charity’s property
  • harm to your charity’s work or reputation.

This guidance from the Charity Commission explains which types of partners you’re required to consider reporting.

Reference: Reporting a serious incident in your charity when it involves a partner

The Charity Commission’s guidance on safeguarding also states that safeguarding incidents should be reported to all relevant agencies and regulators in full, including to the police if the incident involves criminal behaviour.

Reference: Charity Commission guidance: Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees

It’s an offence to provide false or misleading information to the Charity Commission, including through the annual return.

Reference: Section 60 of the Charities Act 2011

Duty to make a risk management statement in your annual report

Charities that are required by law to have their accounts audited must make a risk management statement in their trustees’ annual report. This statement should confirm that the charity’s trustees have considered major risks that could affect the charity and feel the charity has systems in place to manage those risks.

They should also include a description of the policies and procedures that the charity has in place to induct and train new trustees.

Reference: Regulation 40 of the Charities (Accounts and Reports) Regulations 2008

Duty on employers and those in control of work premises to report accidents and diseases

Employers, and others in control of work premises (for example, landlords), must report and keep records of:

  • work-related accidents that cause death
  • work-related accidents that cause certain serious injuries
  • diagnosed cases of certain industrial diseases
  • certain ‘dangerous occurrences’ (incidents with the potential to cause harm).

The Health and Safety Executive provides further guidance on the duties, including of the relevant diseases and occurrences.

Duties of charities to report harm in specific circumstances

Duty to include a public statement on fundraising and people at risk in your annual report

Registered charities with a gross income of more than £1m (or with a gross income of more than £250,000, where at the end of the year the aggregate value of assets exceeds £3.26m) must include a statement about fundraising in their trustees’ annual report.

This statement should describe the charity’s approach to fundraising, along with the measures it takes to protect people at risk and other members of the public from unreasonably intrusive or persistent fundraising approaches, and undue pressure to donate.

Reference: Section 162A of the Charities Act 2011 as amended by section 13 of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016

Charity Commission guidance on annual reports: Charity Commission guidance CC15d on reporting and accounting

Duty to publish an annual statement on modern slavery

Any organisation carrying out activity in the UK with a total annual turnover of £36m or more is required to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organisation.

Modern slavery is a term used to encapsulate offences including slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and human trafficking.

The statement for a financial year is a statement of the steps the organisation has taken during that year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains or in any part of its own business (or a statement that the organisation has taken no such steps).

The statement must be published on the organisation’s website (if it has one) with a link to the statement in a prominent place on that website’s homepage.

Reference: Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Reference: The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Transparency in Supply Chains) Regulations 2015

The key statutory guidance for organisations is revised regularly by the secretary of state.

Reference: Slavery and human trafficking in supply chains: guidance for businesses

Duty on certain public bodies to notify Home Office of suspected victim of slavery or human trafficking

Specific public bodies must notify the Home Office if they have grounds to believe someone may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking. Examples of these public bodies include:

  • the police
  • the National Crime Agency
  • local authorities
  • the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Reference: Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Reference: Modern slavery: how to identify and support victims

Duty to report belief or suspicion of terrorist activity

It’s an offence to fail to disclose information that might prevent someone from carrying out an act of terrorism, or might bring a terrorist to justice in the UK.

In this context, ‘an act of terrorism’ is one that fits the definition of terrorism in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It includes acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.

It’s also an offence to disclose information that could prejudice an investigation into terrorism – or to interfere with material that’s likely to be relevant to such an investigation.

Reference: Sections 38B and 39 of the Terrorism Act 2000 as amended by Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

Duty to report belief or suspicion of terrorist finance offences

If, during the course of your employment, you believe or suspect someone has committed a terrorist finance offence under The Terrorism Act 2000, you must tell the police as soon as is reasonably practicable.

This applies to charity trustees and volunteers, as well as paid employees.

Reference: Section 19 of the Terrorism Act 2000

Duty to report drug use on premises

If you manage or occupy a premises, it’s an offence to knowingly permit, or fail to take reasonable steps to stop, the production or supply of any controlled drug.

It’s a similar offence to knowingly permit, or fail to take reasonable steps to stop, the preparation and smoking of opium, or the smoking of cannabis.

Reference: Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Reference: R v Brock [2001] 1 WLR 1159

Duty to report road traffic accidents

All drivers involved must stop at the scene of an accident, regardless of the severity of the collision or who’s to blame.

The driver is required, if asked by someone with reasonable grounds, to provide his or her name and address, along with the details of the vehicle and its owner, and (if relevant) insurance details. If the driver does not do this, they must report the accident to the police within 24 hours.

Reference: Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

Duty to report fraud and money laundering

If a charity’s trustee suspects a crime has been committed or the charity’s money is being used for illegal purposes, they must report their concerns to the police and appropriate authorities.

Reference: Charity Commission Compliance Toolkit: protecting charities from harm – Chapter 3: Fraud and Financial Crime (pdf)

Duty on schools and colleges to report sexual violence and harassment

If a child has been harmed, is at risk of harm, or is in immediate danger, schools and colleges are required to report cases of sexual violence and/or harassment to social services.

Schools and colleges are also expected to report allegations of rape and sexual assault to the police.

Reference: Department for Education guidance: Keeping children safe in education – for schools and colleges

Duty on health and care service providers to keep others informed

Organisations delivering specific health and care services may have legal duties to inform those in their care of any incidents or concerns they report.

Reference: The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014

Duty on regulated healthcare professionals and teachers to report female genital mutilation

It’s mandatory for all regulated healthcare professionals and teachers in England and Wales to report 'known cases' of female genital mutilation (FGM) in under 18s to the police. This obligation also applies to social care workers in Wales.

‘Known’ cases are those where either a girl informs a teacher or health professional that an act of FGM has been carried out on her; or where a teacher or health professional observes physical signs on a girl that suggest she’s been subjected to FGM.

Reference: Section 5B of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003

Reference: Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information

Last reviewed: 15 June 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 15 June 2022

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