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What Trustees can learn post the Oxfam scandal

Charity Savings Jar Oxfam Scandal

Sexual abuse; exploitation of those they are meant to help; lying to the regulator; could Oxfam’s reputation be in any more tatters? Instead of documenting what went wrong at Oxfam, we should instead look at the lessons trustees of other charities must learn.

As part of a series of measures, the International Development Secretary has

  • written to all UK charities operating overseas, demanding they “step up and do more” so “we have absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency that are needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”;
  • asked such charities to confirm they have referred any cases or concerns about individuals to the relevant authorities; and
  • established a new unit to “urgently review” safeguarding across the sector to ensure people are being protected from sexual exploitation and abuse.

So if the charity operates overseas then clearly trustees must make sure they have policies in place, that they are adequately documented and that the policies actually work!

But it isn’t just those charities operating overseas. Charities working with vulnerable beneficiaries within the UK need a heightened focus on possible abuses of power leading to bullying, harassment, or sexual misconduct.

Post the Oxfam scandal, the three UK charity regulators have highlighted that the legal duty of all charity trustees is to act in the best interests of their charity and, in particular, to act with due care and diligence.

All three regulators have  clarified that when ‘serious incidents’ / ‘notifiable events’ occur, they must be reported to the regulator in order to protect vulnerable beneficiaries. Indeed, the Scottish charity regulator has also stated that they see charities who submit ‘notifiable events’ generally in a positive light as it shows that trustees are generally taking correct steps to sort out the relevant issues.

There is also a reminder that charities should have good whistle-blowing processes to enable employees to feel safe if they have concerns that need addressing.

The England and Welsh charity regulator has already set up a special taskforce and intensified their efforts to ensure charities report serious safeguarding incidents, including historic incidents they may have failed to report previously. This has doubled the rate of reporting in the last couple of weeks.

Trustees must remember that they are legally responsible for the charitable objectives and activities and that this not only covers safeguarding the charities assets but also any vulnerable beneficiaries.

How can we help

Our one day charity conferences are running over the next month and includes a session from the charity regulator and a session covering the role and responsibilities of the trustee. For details of locations, price and further information on the sessions included, visit our website.

Written by Jenny Faulkner

Jenny Faulkner

Jenny is a part of Mercia’s technical team and she lectures on a range of audit and accounts courses, as well as carrying out peer reviews. Her specialisms involve FRS 102, IFRS, Charities and Academies and she is editor of the Mercia Charities SAM.

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