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Charity Trustees’ duties

Published: 04/05/2018
Updated: 04/05/2018


Charity trustee duties

Practical safeguarding steps

Whistleblowing and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA)

Sharing information with other agencies

Safe recruitment (staff and volunteers) 

Working with partners overseas, in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK

What should a safeguarding policy contain?


Charity trustee general duties:

1. You must act in the interests of the charity 

1.1 You must operate in a manner consistent with the charity’s purpose 

1.2 You must act with care and diligence 

1.3 You must manage any conflict of interest between the charity and any person or organisation who appoints charity trustees. 

The legal duty of all charity trustees is to act in the interests of their charity and in particular to act with care and diligence. Charities should have the appropriate mechanisms in place to make sure that a safe environment is created for staff, beneficiaries and volunteers. Charity trustees have a collective responsibility for safeguarding even if certain aspects of the work are delegated to staff. Ultimately, charity trustees are accountable for all that happens within their charity.

Safeguarding vulnerable beneficiaries is a key governance priority. Any failure by charity trustees to manage safeguarding risks adequately can be a failure in charity trustee duties and would be of serious regulatory concern to OSCR. We may consider this to be misconduct in the administration of the charity. See section 4 for details on OSCR’s role. 

Charity trustees need to be aware of and alert to the risk that their charity may be targeted by those who want to gain access to children or vulnerable adults. While the risks may never fully disappear, having the correct procedures and adequate checks in place will mean that if things do go wrong the charity is best placed to deal with it.

Practical safeguarding steps

Charity Trustees should take these practical safeguarding steps:

  1. Know your duties in terms of charity law: read our Guidance and Good Practice for Charity Trustees, and understand how, in your charity the role of a charity trustee relates to safeguarding

  2. Know what specific statutory duties you have to comply with because of the nature of your charity’s activities including where necessary carrying out Disclosure Scotland checks

  3. Make sure charity trustees are appropriately trained in safeguarding so that they’re able to make informed decisions that affect vulnerable beneficiaries
  1. Be alert to the possibility of the charity being targeted as an access point to children or vulnerable adults and the ways you can manage those risks

  2. Have adequate safeguarding policies and procedures appropriate for your charity’s activities that reflect both the law and best practice. For example, charities working with children should have a child protection policy in place. Review and assess safeguarding risks and policies regularly, particularly where there are changes in circumstances or activities

  3. Make sure safeguarding policies and procedures are properly implemented. All staff and volunteers should receive safeguarding training and go on regular refresher courses and be clear about:
    - what abuse is
    - how to spot it
    - how to respond to concerns about and from vulnerable beneficiaries
    - who to report concerns to
  1. Make sure the principal themes of safeguarding are embedded in the culture of your charity encouraging a safe environment so that anyone who has a concern feels able to report it as soon as abuse is identified or suspected

  2. Have in place procedures for staff, volunteers and beneficiaries to raise concerns with clear
    - lines of accountability
    - systems of reporting
    - actions to be taken
  1. Make sure all concerns reported are appropriately and sensitively investigated and promptly acted on

  2. If incidents do occur, reflect and learn from them. This may include making changes to your policy if needed, seeking feedback from beneficiaries and showing your commitment to safeguarding by publishing your safeguarding policy.

Download the infographic of the 10 steps.
These steps are vital, given that charities are accountable to the public and must provide public benefit.


Whistleblowing and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA)

PIDA protects paid workers from unfair dismissal or treatment from their employer if they report wrongdoing. We consider it best practice for charities that employ people to have whistleblowing procedures in place so that concerns can be raised by staff openly and safely.

More information on whistleblowing and PIDA can be found in our guidance and on the UK Government website.


Sharing information with other agencies

Charity trustees should liaise and work with other organisations to prevent those individuals who actively target charities in order to abuse children and vulnerable adults from doing so. This may include sharing information or making referrals to social services or other relevant agencies and also the prompt reporting of incidents to Police Scotland

Making a referral to Disclosure Scotland: If an organisation or employer has employees or volunteers doing 'regulated work', they have a duty to report any harmful behaviour that might affect whether the person is allowed to work with children or protected adults. This applies whether the person is a member of the PVG Scheme or not. This is called making a referral.

Making appropriate referrals is one of the ways charity trustees can demonstrate that they are complying with the duty to act with care and diligence.


Safe recruitment (staff and volunteers)

Charities working with vulnerable beneficiaries should seek to prevent harm and abuse with a rigorous recruitment and interview process for new staff and volunteers. Charity trustees must have safe recruitment practices within their charities to make sure that only suitable people have contact with vulnerable beneficiaries.

Some people are not allowed by law to be a charity trustee. Every charity trustee must make sure that he or she is not breaking the law by being a charity trustee.

Types of disclosure

You may need a criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland if you're applying for paid or unpaid work, including volunteering with a charity. The type of check to be used depends on the voluntary or paid work you're doing or the role you are carrying out. Disclosure Scotland provide:

  • Basic disclosure
  • Standard disclosure
  • Enhanced disclosure
  • Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme

PVG checks

The Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (PVG Act) sets out the legal framework for the vetting and barring scheme for those working with children and protected adults in Scotland, known as the PVG scheme.

Charities have a responsibility to make sure that any trustees, employees and volunteers that work with vulnerable beneficiaries are suitable for the role and that they obtain appropriate checks to prove this.

The PVG scheme applies only to 'regulated work'. There are two types of regulated work – work with children and work with protected adults. Regulated work may include:

  • caring responsibilities
  • teaching or supervising children and/or protected adults
  • providing personal services to children and/or protected adults
  • having unsupervised contact with children and/or protected adults.

The PVG scheme also applies to regulated work carried out in other countries, for example, when a charity sends a volunteer overseas to work in a school.  

More information on how the PVG scheme works can be found at Disclosure Scotland. It is good practice to notify Disclosure Scotland when an individual on the scheme leaves an organisation.

Volunteer Scotland provide a range of support with the PVG scheme for voluntary sector organisations, including free training, guidance and a helpline.  

In addition to the PVG scheme, charity trustees should consider if their recruitment policy and processes are robust and meet best practice – see the Safer recruitment through better recruitment guidance.

Working with partners overseas, in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK

Charities working overseas often work with the poorest and most vulnerable people. Charities can be working with people who are simply trying to survive following devastating man made or natural disasters. Charity trustees should be alive to the fact that some individuals may exploit weaknesses in a charity’s safeguarding practices particularly in the face of immense pressure to deliver aid and save lives.

Charities that work with partner organisations both in Scotland,
elsewhere in the UK or overseas should make sure that:

  • those organisations have appropriate safeguarding policies in place for the nature of the work and the area they operate in
  • that these policies are properly implemented in practice and regularly reviewed
  • when giving grants to overseas organisations appropriate due diligence checks are made on the recipient body.

Charity trustees also need to be aware that vulnerable beneficiaries overseas can face different or additional risks of abuse or exploitation and safeguarding policies and procedures should take account of any additional factors that are necessary in the circumstances.

Remember, the PVG scheme applies where charities send individuals to other countries to do regulated work. This is set out in an amendment to section 73 of the PVG Act – the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Prescribed Purposes for Consideration of Suitability) Regulations 2010/381.

In terms of international safeguarding issues, OSCR has no direct regulatory remit over charities’ overseas partners or not-for-profit organisations. Where a charity registered in Scotland supports, or works closely with overseas partners, we will hold the charity to account over the suitability and management of that relationship, including its supervision of safeguarding risks.

What should a safeguarding policy contain?

The contents and detail of a charity’s safeguarding policy will depend on the charity’s activities with vulnerable beneficiaries and the level of risk.

Where the risks are higher, for example in charities where activities with vulnerable beneficiaries are core to the charity’s purpose, charity trustees will need to do more to fulfil their legal duties and make sure their policy is appropriate for their operations. The policy should always include requirements for the charity’s trustees, staff and volunteers to learn about protection issues in accordance with the relevant statutory guidance and within the context of their own roles and responsibilities.

OSCR can’t advise charities on what specific information to include in a policy, but we would expect, as a minimum, policies are:

  • agreed by the charity trustees
  • regularly updated
  • reflect statutory guidance and national and local practice
  • supported by an implementation plan.

The policy should be publicly available, to provide reassurance and enable constructive feedback from beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

The NSPCC has tips for writing a safeguarding policy when working with children.