PCCs, Diocesan Boards of Finance, and religious communities are now required by the House of Bishops to report any “serious incidents” — safeguarding and non-safeguarding — to the Charity Commission, under new guidance published this week.
As part of the move, the C of E will start compiling national safeguarding statistics for the first time.
Religious communities, PCCs, and DBFs are all charities. Charity Commission guidance from 2014, updated in October last year, states that all charities are required to report a serious incident directly to the organisation.
It is the first time, however, that the Church of England has produced guidance in this area which has been developed with and approved by the Charity Commission. The main purpose is to support church-led charities to understand the nature of serious incidents, safeguarding or otherwise, and how to report them to the Commission.
A spokeswoman for the Church’s National Safeguarding Team explained: “This is not a new obligation; but this new C of E-focused guidance seeks to support and help DBFs, PCCs, and RCs to comply with their obligations.”
A “serious safeguarding incident” is described in the guidance, published on Wednesday, as “an actual or alleged safeguarding incident, which results in or risks significant harm” to the reputation of a church or charity, or the people employed by, or associated with, that charity.
Examples given include mistreatment and abuse, or alleged abuse, of beneficiaries (adults or children), or of a person who has encountered the charity through its work. This would include sexual harassment, “or if a widespread of culture of bullying, abuse or sexual harassment is uncovered”.
Non-safeguarding serious incidents include fraud, cyber-crime, theft, significant financial loss, a data-protection breach, links to terrorism or extremism, and unverifiable or suspicious donations exceeding £25,000.
The new guidance (a 16-page document tailored to each of the three organisations) replaces specific sections in previous safeguarding policies from the House of Bishops, including Protecting All God’s Children and Promoting a Safe Church.
It provides a new system by which PCCs can report all safeguarding serious incidents through their diocese, and details the role of each parish or diocesan officer in this case. Religious communities (except closed communities, which are not charities) will continue to report directly to the Charity Commission, assisted by the new guidance.
The Charity Commission has also agreed that DBFs can “bulk report” serious safeguarding incidents every six months, unless an incident is “very serious” — for example because it presents a “live” risk to individuals, and therefore must be reported immediately.
All must comply, the spokewoman said. “If clergy do not have due regard to HoB guidance they can be disciplined under the CDM [Clergy Discipline Measure]. If the person who fails to have due regard are not clergy, they would be disciplined using whatever the appropriate mechanism was.
“Failure to report any serious incident (whether safeguarding or otherwise) could lead to an investigation by the Charity Commission, if the incident came to the commission’s attention.”
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, who is the C of E’s lead safeguarding bishop, said: “This new guidance for reporting means that, for the first time, we will start to have a national picture of emerging trends in serious incidents, particularly around safeguarding.”
The spokeswoman explained that, because the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) had criticised the Church for not having a central record of safeguarding serious incidents, “the opportunity has been taken to collate all safeguarding serious incidents by requiring copies of all those reported to the Charity Commission to also be sent to the National Safeguarding Team.”
Bishop Hancock continued: “It is vital that all institutions follow correct safeguarding governance, including reporting to the Charity Commission; but for the Church it is about the core missional business of who we are, valuing everyone in God’s image. Safeguarding is about the prevention of harm and the promotion of wellbeing — everyone’s wellbeing.”
The move comes after the Charity Commission held round-table discussions attended by 40 large charities over last summer to help improve reporting, and agree on the terms of bulk reporting.
The head of the Charity Commission’s risk assessment unit, Kate Waring, said: “We are clear that reporting a serious incident alone is not necessarily a sign that there have been failings within a charity. In fact, making a report to us is an important way for trustees to demonstrate that they are responding responsibly to an incident.
“The Commission recently updated its guidance on serious-incident reporting, and the new House of Bishops’ guidance helpfully supplements this with information that is specific to PCCs, DBFs, and religious communities. So we were pleased to be able to approve this guidance and the associated reporting process, which we hope will assist trustees in ensuring that the right incidents are reported to us at the right time with the right information.”