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Hundreds of concerns raised about charities

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Posted on : May 17, 2019

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Scotland’s charities have reported hundreds of serious concerns about their own organisations to regulators since 2016, it has emerged.

The 318 “notifiable events” reported over that period include cases of fraud, bullying and sexual abuse.

They include 29 allegations of sexual misconduct, nearly a third relating to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

Any suspected wrongdoing is expected to be reported to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).

But fears of under-reporting have been raised because charities have no legal obligation to report notifiable events to regulators.

The OSCR said the system of charities self-reporting issues, which began in April 2016, was still developing.

Image copyright Lindsays
Image caption Alastair Keatinge has raised concerns about under-reporting

Since April 2016 charities have been asked to report “events that could have a potentially significant impact on the charity” to the OSCR.

Data released by the OSCR to BBC Scotland shows that between that point and March this year there have been 318 so-called “notifiable events”.

  • A total of 78 of these cases involved issues of financial loss, while 69 related to fraud and theft
  • A further 36 cases have been classified as safeguarding issues
  • Of these, 29 had some element of potential sexual misconduct – nearly double the figure released last year
  • Almost of third of the 29 safeguarding issues (28%) related to the charity declaring they were involved in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry
  • Other categories of notification include bullying and internal governance disputes

The OSCR said that in the majority of cases no further action was required, although 27 cases were referred to the watchdog’s investigation unit.

Most of the notifiable events are reported to regulators in private, but last year the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (Sciaf) made public that it had reported two incidents to the OSCR.

The Dumfries and Galloway-based landmine removal organisation the Halo Trust suspended a member of staff in January last year following a sexual assault allegation.

The Burmese man, a junior official for the charity, was later found guilty of attempted rape by a court in Myanmar.

Image copyright OSCR
Image caption The OSCR’s Jude Turbyne said charities were more aware of the regime

Alastair Keatinge, head of charities at Lindsays solicitors, has raised concerns about under-reporting.

He said: “I come at this as a supporter of OSCR, but they shot themselves in the foot by not making it a legal obligation to report a notifiable event.

“The current set-up leaves the door open for trustees, who are perhaps embarrassed or worried about the reputational damage to their organisation, to try to keep the issue in-house.

“Just over 300 events over three years when there are something like 23,000 charities strikes me that it is inevitable there is an under-reporting of notifiable events.”

‘Significant increase’

Jude Turbyne, the OSCR’s head of engagement, said the notifiable events system allowed them to get assurances that “charity trustees are dealing with the situation correctly”.

She added: “The regime is still fairly new, and it is still developing. We are pleased with the progress we are making.

“In early 2018, we wrote to every charity and reminded them of notifiable events and how to contact us if one happened.

“Since then, we have seen a significant increase in the number of events raised, but this is because charities are more aware of the regime, not necessarily because these incidents are more common.”

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