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Tom Burke

Tom Burke

NCVO associate


Five reasons why understanding the law helps build safer organisations

Tom Burke

Tom Burke

NCVO associate


To mark National Safeguarding Adults Week, Tom Burke, who leads NCVOs training on safeguarding, explores how understanding the law contributes to building a safer organisational culture.

Charity campaigners and survivors of abuse have secured many of our legal rights to be protected from harm. Drawing attention to the abuse that is all too widespread in society and gaps in legal protection, they persuaded Parliament and Courts to act. They have contributed to a patchwork of laws which both determine how and when statutory agencies – like local government and others – must act to keep people safe but also protect people from unnecessary interference with their freedom.

Implementing these laws and court judgements can make a difference to those experiencing harm.

Over the past three years, NCVO has delivered safeguarding training to over 1000 staff, trustees and volunteers. Many contact our small charity helpdesk asking for advice. We know they want to "get things right" and be clear about their safeguarding duties. Many share how vital it is for everyone who is part of their organisation to meet their legal obligations.

Yet, laws, regulations and Governmental policies can seem confusing. Laws were created at different times, with different definitions. Different laws apply depending on the group we work with or our settings.

Working with charity law firm Bates Wells, we recently published Safeguarding and the Law. This online guide helps trustees, staff and volunteers involved in safeguarding in charities or voluntary organisations in England understand their legal duties and the duties of public and regulatory bodies. By better understanding the law, charities and those working within them can feel confident about meeting their responsibilities and holding others to account for their work too.

Those championing safeguarding in voluntary organisations should understand the law and use it as a tool to drive change in their organisation. The law is not something to fear; it is a tool to make our organisations and communities safer for all.

1. Gain certainty about your duties

Everyone in your organisation must recognise the importance of keeping people safe. In the words of the Charity Commission, it is a governance priority for all charities and a fundamental part of operating as a charity. When you understand the law, you can identify what duties apply to your work and explain them to your team. We can make it clear to everyone acting on our behalf and our partners that we have duties for safeguarding.

2. Gain certainty about the duties of others...

Over the years, different statutory agencies have gained legal duties for keeping people safe. Working closely with others is key to keeping children and adults at risk safe from harm. However, who in law must do what? By understanding the legal framework, you can better navigate which public bodies are responsible for safeguarding.

3. ... and hold them to account

All too often, statutory agencies are struggling to meet their duties. It's rightfully the role of voluntary organisations to shine a light on these gaps and advocate for change. By understanding the law, you can better see whether decision-makers are meeting their duties and hold them accountable for keeping people in your community safe from harm.

4. You have the right to be heard

Working together also creates opportunities for voluntary organisations to be heard. Laws often require statutory agencies to engage with and listen to the views of voluntary organisations when planning services and activities. Just in the past year, new laws created duties for statutory agencies to consult charities when planning support for survivors of domestic abuse. When voluntary organisations understand these duties, they can ensure they are met and their views – and those we work with – are heard.

5. Pass the message on

Safeguarding should always be done with people. When we understand the law; we can accurately share this with others in our organisation and our communities. When people know their rights, they can more effectively claim them and hold those in power accountable.

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