The Charity Commission - an independent, non-ministerial government department that registers and regulates charities in England and Wales - has clarified respective roles and responsibilities to address bullying and harassment in the charity sector. This follows the meeting of a collaborative working group set up to help ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society.
At the forefront, the trustees of all charities must recognise there is simply no place for bullying or harassment within or by charities. “In a sector grounded on kindness and generosity, this kind of culture is unacceptable” (Paul Latham, Director of Policy at the Charity Commission). Trustees must have clear policies in place to address concerns raised with them and to ensure allegations are handled correctly and in line with employment and other laws. The Commission has made it clear that anyone involved in a charity including volunteers and beneficiaries must be made aware of the policies and know how to apply them. The amount of detail in the policies will depend on what the charity does and how it operates.
The Charity Commission requires charities to report serious incidents and/or allegations. There must be full and frank disclosure of what happened and how it is being dealt with. A ‘serious incident’ is “an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant (1) harm to …. people who come into contact with your charity through their work; (2) loss of your charity’s money or assets; (3) damage to your charity’s property; (4) harm to your charity’s work or reputation”. All trustees bear ultimate responsibility for ensuring their charity makes a report and does so in a timely manner for the regulator to assess.
The Commission acts as a risk-based regulator and will prioritise involvement to address the highest risk of harm such as where there are concerns that trustees have not appropriately addressed any reported bullying or harassment which is widespread and systemic within a charity. Its focus is on the proper governance of the charity, and it seeks to ensure trustees are responding to incidents appropriately by, for example, providing regulatory advice or opening a statutory enquiry. It is not the Commission’s role to resolve individual employment issues (a matter for grievance procedure and employment tribunals) or to investigate criminal offences (a matter for law enforcement).
The working group continues to explore what constitutes or contributes to bullying behaviour and to continue to inform, educate and support the charity sector in creating a safe and inclusive culture.