08 December 2016

Results of Charity Commission inquiry provides further guidance on safeguarding

Alison Paines
Partner | UK

The Charity Commission has now released a statement of the results of the inquiry into Bristol Community Church Trust (registered charity number: 1044496).

In October 2011, the Commission was notified by a congregational member of the charity that sexual abuse allegations had been made against the charity's youth pastor. Whilst allegations of sexual abuse are dealt with by the appropriate authorities, rather than the Commission, the Commission's regulatory remit extends to ensuring that allegations were dealt with properly and that there were proper systems in place to handle such allegations. The Commission also seeks to ensure that any ongoing risk to beneficiaries are managed appropriately. Accordingly the Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity.

The Commission concluded that reasonable steps were not being taken at the time the safeguarding incidents occurred by the Charity's trustees to protect beneficiaries, which constituted misconduct and mismanagement. There were a number of deficiencies in the Charity's safeguarding policies, procedures and practice which subjected the Charity's vulnerable beneficiaries to undue risk.

The Commission acknowledged that the trustees subsequently worked to implement improvements to its safeguarding policies and procedure during the course of the inquiry and fully co-operated with the Commission and the other agencies. However, the full implementation of all the recommendations, which took until the end of 2015 to complete, should have been delivered with greater pace.

Each of the weaknesses in the Charity's safeguarding policies and procedures have now been addressed appropriately by the trustees, with full implementation of the recommendations from the Commission.

Lessons for other charities

It is essential that charities engaged with children or vulnerable people:

  • have adequate safeguarding policies and procedures which reflect both the law and best practice in this area;
  • ensure that trustees know what their responsibilities are; and
  • ensure that these policies are fully implemented and followed at all times. Trustees must therefore regularly review the steps that are taken to provide them with assurance on the fitness for purpose of their policies and the extent of compliance in the charity's practice with those policies.

If a charity is dealing with a safeguarding incident, as well as reporting these to the appropriate statutory agencies, it is important that the charity also reports it to the Commission as a serious incident and does so as soon as possible after they become aware of them.

As well as reporting to the Commission, you must also notify the police, local authority and/or relevant regulator or statutory agency responsible for dealing with these incidents. The full case report is available here. The Commission's guidance on safeguarding children and young people is available here and the serious incident reporting guidance is here.   

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