The high media profile of the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website has helped more individuals to be able to speak out about allegations of sexual abuse in schools and raised awareness in the public eye. While both unacceptable and upsetting to hear, the news has also brought into sharp focus how important it is for charity trustees, often the school governors, to be aware of their duties to report serious incidents to the Charity Commission.
A serious incident is an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant harm to the charity’s beneficiaries, people, assets, money or reputation. Where a beneficiary or other individual connected with the charity’s activities has/alleges to have suffered serious harm this may be a serious incident that needs to be reported. Whether the allegation is made anonymously or not or whether you have records proving they were a beneficiary of the school doesn’t alter the fact that a Serious Incident Report (SIR) may need to be made.
While the responsibility for reporting serious incidents rests with the school governors, it is not unusual for the report to be made by management. However, the governors collectively remain ultimately responsible for ensuring the report is made and submitted as soon as possible after governors and management first became aware of the incident.
The SIR enables the Commission to ensure charity trustees are following their legal responsibilities and that the incident is managed effectively. Further guidance on reporting serious incidents can be found here.
Where an incident arises it must be reported quickly to minimise future damage to the school. It may be necessary to file a report to the police if you believe a criminal offence has taken place and any other regulators. The report needs to include details of the incident including its timing, when the charity was notified and the impact the incident has had on the charity’s beneficiaries, finances, people and reputation. You can access the form here.
When completing an SIR you should also inform the auditors as they have a separate duty under sections 156 and 159 Charities Act 2011 to report significant matters. While not all matters which require an SIR are reportable by the auditor as a Matter of Material Significance, any evidence of risks to the charity’s beneficiaries may be reportable. The fact that the charity has reported the matter does not relieve the auditor of their own duty to report. The auditor will often use the SIR submitted by the school as the basis for their own reporting to ensure that the facts reported all align with one another.
If you are in doubt whether a matter should be reported to the Charity Commission we recommend you first refer to their guidance through the links in this document and if necessary seek legal advice.