The Charity Commission has issued updated guidance for charities (which will include most schools) on how to report Serious Incidents. At the same time the Commission has expressed concern that charities may not understand their obligations in this respect, meaning that reports are not being filed when they should be.
In summary, a “Serious Incident” is any event that results in, or risks, significant loss of a charity’s assets or significant damage to its property, work, beneficiaries or reputation. Any relevant incidents should be reported to the Commission as soon as they occur. You can find that guidance in 'How to report a serious incident in your charity.'
As part of the Annual Return which charities file, they have to declare that there have been no Serious Incidents in the year concerned which should have been reported. It is a criminal offence to give false or misleading information as part of an Annual Return.
In practice, then, schools need to get into the habit of thinking, when something untoward happens, whether the event constitutes a “Serious Incident” which warrants a report to the Charity Commission. The Commission recommends that if governors are in doubt, they should report the incident. Reports are filed to a dedicated email address and upon receipt the Commission’s staff will determine if they need further information or if they are satisfied that the governors are dealing with the incident appropriately.
The Commission treats Serious Incident Reports confidentially – so the fact that you have filed one will not appear on your entry on the Commission’s website. The Commission is a public body, though, and subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – and thus in a sensitive or high profile matter may receive freedom of information requests from people trying to find out information that suits their particular cause. There are various exemptions available to the Commission under the FOIA. We are not, at the time of writing, aware of an instance where the Commission has been forced to disclose the contents of a serious incident report to a third party.
It is important for the governors or charity trustees to be aware that they bear ultimate responsibility for filing these reports, even if it is delegated to someone else within the school such as the Bursar.
If we can help in any way in relation to what constitutes a Serious Incident and whether a report is required, please contact me or my colleague Kenji Batchelor and we will be pleased to discuss matters.
For further advice on the above topics, please call us on 01483 543210 or alternatively email email@example.com