Following the recent safeguarding scandals involving Oxfam and a number of other prominent charities, the Charity Commission has urged trustees to look at their safeguarding and governance arrangements. Mark Lewis, head of Lodders’ Charity Law team, provides further insight into the matter, and how trustees should act now to ensure that their own charities have taken the necessary precautions when it comes to safeguarding.
Allegations of both exploitation and sexual harassment have been made against Oxfam, resulting in the charity being found to be in need of improvement in respect of its human resource culture and it’s trustees ‘overall governance and management of the charity’. However, Oxfam is not alone in its failure to meet safeguarding standards, with over 300 cases being raised within the Charity Commission between 2016 and 2017, an almost two-fold increase from the 163 cases raised in the previous year.
The Charity Commission, in response to reports, issued an updated safeguarding strategy in 2017, in its fight to regain trust within the charity sector. This strategy seeks to empower trustees to provide a safe environment for all staff, volunteers and the general public who have contact with any charity, be it home or away. An example of a way in which the strategy seeks to do this is through urging trustees to conduct due diligence when working alongside third parties. This means that questions should be asked as to whether such third parties meet the values, objects and general safeguarding processes of the main charity. The general consensus is that the main charity should operate with care, and skill when contracting any third party to ensure that its beneficiaries and staff are protected.
The Charity Commission put further emphasis on the responsibility of the trustees as it has recently stipulated that ‘safeguarding… is made a priority’. This can be achieved through trustees, firstly, having a firm understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities. Trustees must incorporate adequate measures to address and assess any safeguarding issues, be it historical or present, and once such assessments have taken place, the trustees should look to introduce safeguarding policies to counteract these. It is the responsibility of the trustee to ensure that all policies are correctly implemented to stop any issues arising and to regain the public’s trust in charities. The Commission has warned that failure to manage safeguarding risks adequately may result in the trustee being deemed to have committed mismanagement or misconduct, alongside being in breach of a trustees duty.
The overall message from the Charity Commission is that trustees should have safeguarding in the forefront of their minds, whichever charitable sector they are in. Reasonable measures should be taken by trustees to ensure that they meet the current guidelines set by the Charity Commission to ensure that beneficiaries, staff, or the general public are not harmed when interacting with their respective charities.
For more information on safeguarding, or on Lodders’ Charity Law services, please contact Mark Lewis on 01789 206135 or via email.