28th February 2020

The Charity Commission has recently announced updated guidance for charity trustees on when to report incidents involving the charity’s partners as a serious incident.

It states that trustees should make a serious incident report when an incident has occurred involving one of the charity’s partners in the UK or internationally, which materially affects the charity, its staff, operations, finances, and/or reputation (such that it is serious enough to be reported).

In this context, the Commission considers a partner to be:

• a delivery partner or sub-contractor of the charity;
• a subsidiary trading company of the charity;
• an organisation that receives funding from the charity;
• another charity or organisation that is linked to the charity, for example as part of a federated structure.

The Commission has advised that trustees need to consider what to report, taking into account the charity’s activities, size, funding, and the nature of the relationship with the partner, as well as the nature and severity of the incident. It has suggested three different positions:

Where the incident involves the charity’s funds, brand, people, or an activity that it funds or is responsible for

This is the highest risk category due to the close links between the charity and the incident. Therefore, these types of incidents are more likely to trigger the need to report a serious incident to the Commission.

Whilst not all incidents in this category will need to be reported, it is up to the charity’s trustees to decide if the incident is serious enough. For example, where the charity has the same branding as the partner, there is a significant risk to the reputation of, or public confidence in, the charity. This is because the public may not distinguish between the two organisations – meaning the incident may need to be reported, even if there is little or no impact to the charity’s activities, finances, or people.

Where the incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand, or people, but could have a significant impact on the charity

Incidents in this category are less likely to need to be reported to the Commission when the charity does not have close links with the partner. However, they may still need to be reported if the particular incident:

• causes (or is likely to cause) material reputational damage to the charity, and/or
• raises (or is likely to raise) material issues about whether the partner involved remains capable of delivering the charity’s work or continues to be a suitable partner, and or
• is a trigger event that the trustees consider to be so significant it could trigger suspension or termination of the agreement or arrangement with the partner.

Where the incident does not involve the charity’s funds, brand, or people, and has little or no impact on the charity

This involves incidents that are sufficiently remote from the charity’s work that they have little to no impact on the aforementioned factors, the charity’s reputation, or the partner’s ability to deliver its work with the charity.

It would usually not trigger a requirement for reporting to the Commission, but the charity should still consider whether there are any areas for improvement or changes required to policy or procedures in relations to such incidents.

For more information please contact Francesca Leslie, Audit Manager, on 0191 243 6005 or at francescaleslie@unw.co.uk

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