Changes in reporting of serious incidents – guidance for charity trustees

30 May, 2017
This article has been reviewed and is up to date as of 30 May, 2017

Since 2007, charity trustees have been under a duty to report actual or suspected serious incidents to the Charity Commission (‘the Commission’).

The duty to report serious incidents applies to all trustees of registered charities. Trustees of a registered charity with a gross income of over £25,000 are required to sign a declaration in their charity’s annual return that there have not been any unreported serious incidents in relation to the charity during the previous financial year. Any unreported serious incidents must be reported to the Commission when the annual return is submitted.

Over 2,200 serious incidents were reported in 2015 – 2016. However, many serious incidents continue to go unreported. On 20 October 2016, the Commission launched a consultation on proposed updates to its guidance on reporting serious incidents. The consultation period has now closed.

What are the proposed changes?

The updated guidance aims to clarify trustees’ duty to report serious incidents, help trustees to identify serious incidents and clarify the procedure for making a report to the Commission. 

Incidents to be reported

The updated guidance is intended to clarify the types of incident which should be reported. The guidance provides that a serious incident is an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:

  • loss of your charity’s money or assets;
  • damage to your charity’s property; and/or
  • harm to your charity’s work, beneficiaries or reputation.

The most common serious incidents are identified as frauds, thefts, significant financial losses, criminal breaches, terrorism or extremism allegations and safeguarding issues.

How and when to make a report

It is the responsibility of a charity’s trustees to report serious incidents. The trustees may delegate the task of making a report to another person within the charity, but the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that a report is made rests with the trustees.

A report should be made as soon as possible after the serious event happens, or immediately after the trustees become aware of it. Serious incidents can be reported by email to

When making a report, the following details should be provided:

  • who you are and your connection to the charity;
  • your authority to make the report;
  • which of the trustees are aware of the incident;
  • what happened and when the charity first became aware of the incident;
  • what action has or is being taken to deal with the incident and prevent future problems;
  • whether and when the incident has been reported to the police or another regulator; and
  • any media handling lines you have prepared.

Multiple reporting

Larger charities or charities which work in higher risk areas for serious incidents may need to make reports more frequently. The guidance permits such charities to submit periodic bulk reports. If available, periodic reports prepared for your charity’s board can be submitted as the periodic report to the Commission provided that all of the required information about each incident is included.  

Removal of duty to report some types of incident

The updated guidance removes the need to report two types of serious incident included in previous guidance:

  • The charity has no vetting procedure to ensure that a trustee or member of staff is eligible to act in the position he or she is being appointed to.
  • The charity does not have a policy for safeguarding its vulnerable beneficiaries.

The Commission now considers the above situations to be risks rather than serious incidents. Information about these risks will now be requested in the annual return.

New incidents

The updated guidance also includes new examples of serious incidents that charities are experiencing on a regular basis or struggling to manage property. Examples of new serious incidents include:

  • The charity has been forced into insolvency or to wind up.
  • The charity’s bank has served notice of intention to close the charity’s accounts and withdraw all services, or the charity is unable to secure new banking services.

We have yet to see what final changes will be put in place once the Charity Commission has reviewed the consultation responses, but the duty of trustees to report serious incidents will be reiterated. If you would like more information or advice on how reporting serious incidents applies to you or your charity, please contact a member of our charities team at