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Serious incident reporting by charities during COVID-19

10 Jun 2020

Like many organisations, charities are facing significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when does a challenge become a ‘serious incident’? This is important because, as trustees will be aware, they are required to report serious incidents to the Charity Commission so that the Commission can ensure that the charity manages the incident responsibly and the Commission can provide help when needed.

Original guidance from the Commission on reporting serious incidents during the pandemic has been withdrawn (after criticism from the charity sector) but has now been replaced with new guidance published on 3 June.

This guidance states that the Commission’s existing guidance on serious incident reporting continues to be the key resource for charities. However, the Commission has produced a supplementary examples table to help trustees understand if they need to report an incident that is related to the pandemic.

These are the key points arising out of these examples:

  1. Ceasing operations/closing premises

Having to take action to comply with the lockdown, such as ceasing  operations or closing premises, should not be considered to be a significant incident in itself. It is the impact of this action on the charity that is key to determining if this should be reported. For example, if the closure of premises means the charity cannot deliver services to at risk beneficiaries, it should be reported

  1. Financial losses

Usually, charities are expected to report any financial losses that don’t involve a crime where they exceed either £25,000 or 20% of the charity’s income. However, these thresholds do not apply when considering whether to report financial losses related to the pandemic. Again, trustees should focus on the impact of any losses rather than the amount. For example, if the loss of income means the charity is insolvent is or highly likely to be insolvent in the next 12 months, it should be reported.

Making a serious incident report

Serious incident reports should be made using the Commission’s online form here. This should be submitted as soon as is reasonably possible after the incident or when the charity becomes aware that a significant harm or loss is highly likely. During the pandemic, trustees may still delegate to others, such as staff members, the responsibility for deciding which incidents should be reported. However, such decisions should be reported back to the trustees, who remain ultimately responsible for them. Where trustees decide not to report an incident, they should keep a brief record of their decision and the reasons for it.

If you need any help with a serious incident at your charity, please contact a member of our Charities and non-profit team.

Annabel Goh

Emerging Talent Manager