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Voluntary Safeguarding: Looking Back to Look Forward

Friday February 9th 2018. The front page of the Times cries out: Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex. For days after the news dominates newspaper headlines, TV news and radio bulletins. Politicians speak up. Regulators open inquiriesMore stories of more charities followSenior leaders resignThe sector is in the midst of a scandal.

What started as a concern in one charity leads to a period of soul searching and change across Britain’s voluntary sector. Looking back now, what are some key changes as we approach two years on?

Expectations have been raised

The Charity Commission issued guidance – revised again in October 2019 – which sets out the responsibilities of charities to protect people who come into contact with the charity from abuse or mistreatment of any kind. The minimum standards expected by the regulator is laid out in more detail. Whether working domestically or internationally, all charity Trustees much assure themselves that they are meeting these minimum expectations.

One size does not fit all

Whilst all charities have these duties, how they are met will vary enormously. Figures show we have a sector where 82% of charities have income of less than £100,000 a year, alongside 51 charities with an income over £100m a year. The Charity Commission expects every Board of Trustees to “take reasonable steps” to protect people from harm. What is “reasonable” will however depend on the charity, its size, its scale, the type of activities delivered and the risks it is capable of managing.

“Safeguarding” has changed

Traditionally, safeguarding – where it existed as a discrete activity in charities – focussed on protecting children and adults at risk of harm. Many charities assumed that if they didn’t run children’s services or work with disabled people or the very elderly that it wasn’t something for them. Today, its explicit: protecting people and safeguarding should be a governance priority for all charities and is a fundamental part of operating as a charity. It includes safeguarding your intended beneficiaries but also staff, volunteers and others in contact with your charity.

With expectation comes accountability for action

The Charity Commission is clear that they will hold trustees to account for any failure to manage safeguarding risks adequately. In such a situation, the regulator could judge there to be misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity and a breach of the trustees’ legal duties. In 2016 it gained new legal powers to publicly issue warnings about a trustee or charity and to disqualify trustees to act.

A more proactive regulator

More widely, the Commission has increased its rhetoric about its role in defending public expectations beyond those legal duties. Whilst others in the sector are critical of these turns, the charity sector faces a more proactive and activist regulator. Unlike other regulators, it is also gaining a 10% funding increase in 2020 and much will go towards boosting its investigations into charities.

There is also increased support to get it right

How can charities best navigate this rising tide of expectation and potential penalties? How does it determine what is “reasonable” for them? In 2019 I worked with charities in a partnership led by NCVO to develop a new suite of guidance to help charities build a better safeguarding culture in the organisation.

However, words on the web is not the same as having a space for explanation, discussion and reflection. Our Inside Government safeguarding courses brings these regulatory expectations to life with real life guidance of how to meet your duties well. Book now to secure your place in our forthcoming courses.

Tom Burke, Freelance Consultant

To hear more from Tom Burke and others including the NCVO, ICIA, Department for International Development and Bond please join us for the Virtual International Development Conference taking place on the 3rd-4th December 2020.

Online International Development Conference