UK Charity Watchdog Sees Jump in Serious Incidents

The Charity Commission, the registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, recorded 5,730 “serious incidents” involving UK charities during its 2019-2020 year, which ended March 31. That level marks an increase from the 3,895 incidents reported during 2018-2019.

Part of the increase resulted from a new online reporting structure, which streamlined the Commission’s ability to determine whether a report required further regulatory investigation. According to the Commission’s most recent annual report, the introduction of the online form has resulted in 90 percent of these reports having all the information needed to assess the incident, triple the level seen before the online forms were implemented.

Nearly 60 percent of the serious incidents involved “safeguarding,” which the Charity Commission has defined as “the range of measures in place to protect people in a charity, or those it comes in contact with, from abuse and maltreatment.”

During the year, the Commission used its powers 1,962 times, up from 1,864 times during the 2018-2019 year. The Commission most often invoked investigatory powers, such as demanding documents, accounts or statements. But it also took actions to protect charities, such as freezing bank accounts, issued 31 Official Warnings to charities (up from 20 the previous year), and disqualified a trustee 32 times, up from 22 during 2018-2019.

All in all, the Commission concluded 181 statutory inquiries, its most serious type of regulatory action, compared with 155 a year earlier. The higher conclusion level reflects a renewed push to resolve older cases.

 

During the year, it initiated 67 new inquiries, including high-profile cases such as its conflicts of interest investigation into the Professional Footballers’ Association Charity and SPAC Nation, a church group charged with financially exploiting members of its congregation.

 

The Commission has also stepped up its actions regarding responding to whistleblower reports. As of its most recent year, it had recorded 247 whistleblowing reports, up from 185 in 2018-2019. During the year it prioritized its responses to whistleblowers, and in June debuted a new helpline program in conjunction with Protect, the UK’s charity whistleblowing organization. 

Not all of the Commission’s activities were punitive. It reviewed 8,329 applications to register a charity, up from 8,074 a year earlier. It approved around 60 percent of those during the most recent year.

There are 168,033 charities registered with the Charity Commission, including 18,130 that operate outside England and Wales. Collectively, they represent 81.2 billion UK pounds in charity income (the equivalent of $101.8 billion) and 78.7 billion UK pounds in charity spending ($98.7 billion.)