Coronavirus and serious incident reporting (SIR) for charities

The Charity Commission requires charities to report actual or alleged serious incidents.

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Key themes

Serious incident reports (SIRs) should be a prompt and open report to the Charity Commission which details what happened and the approach in which the charity is taking to deal with the serious incident.

What is a serious incident?

Serious incidences are defined in the Charity Commission SIR guidance as “an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:

  • harm to your charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with your charity through its work (who are collectively referred to throughout this guidance as people who come into contact with your charity through its work);
  • loss of your charity’s money or assets;
  • damage to your charity’s property; or
  • harm to your charity’s work or reputation.

“Significant” is taken to mean significant in the context of your charity, so it will depend on your charity’s size, staff, operations, finances and/or reputation.

The trustees of a charity hold ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the charity makes a SIR when applicable, therefore it is in the trustees’ discretion and judgment as to whether they consider an actual or alleged incident a serious incident with significant risk, as described above.

Does coronavirus trigger a serious incident “significant” enough to file SIR?

The Charity Commission released guidance on 19 March 2020 (found here), which confirms that charity trustees should continue to report serious incidents using the current guidelines (found here).

We have set out below some example scenarios under which a charity may choose to file a coronavirus-related SIR:

Serious incident to report: Harm to people who come into contact with your charity through its work

Example scenario: Beneficiaries in a care home having an elevated exposure to coronavirus leading to a death or serious harm; a significant contributory factor being the charity’s failure to implement a relevant policy.

Serious incident to report: other significant financial loss

Example scenario: Sudden loss of 20% of more of a charity’s income due to cancellation of fundraising events, loss of donation income and/or loss of income from closure of charity shops, galleries and services etc.; charities has no reserves, meaning staff will be laid off and stoppage of services.

Serious incident to report: Incidents involving partners

Example scenario :
(a) A delivery partner of the charity has ceased to operate due to coronavirus which prevents the charity from providing services and assistance to its beneficiaries.
(b)The charity’s subsidiary trading company goes into liquidation due to reduced trading caused by coronavirus, and the liquidation has a material impact on the financial sustainability and future of the charity.

Serious incident to report: Other significant incidents

Example scenario:
(a) The charity’s services are severely disrupted from coronavirus such as lack of staff (due to quarantine and illness), unreliable supply of essential products such as food for a food bank, which materially impacts on the charity’s ability to provide services for its beneficiaries, and which poses uncertainty on the sustainability of the charity’s service provision.
(b) The charity becomes insolvent.

When to file an SIR

The Charity Commission recommends that both actual and alleged incidents are filed promptly. This means reporting as soon as possible after the incident happens or after the charity becomes aware of the incident.

If you need any further advice please speak to your usual Bates Wells contact or more generally, please contact Abbie Rumbold ([email protected]) or Jennifer Chong ([email protected]).

All content on this page is correct as of March 20, 2020.