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Safeguarding in voluntary organisations

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What charities and formal voluntary organisations need to consider in meeting their safeguarding duties during the covid-19 pandemic.

This page explains specific considerations for charities and formal voluntary organisations in meeting their safeguarding duties during the covid-19 pandemic. It is aimed primarily for those responsible for safeguarding but may be useful for organisation leaders and managers. 

If you are an informal volunteer-led group, such as a mutual aid group or an unregistered community organisation, and want information on how to keep people safe from harm, read our guidance on safeguarding for informal volunteer-led groups.

Your safeguarding duties during the pandemic

  • All organisations have general duties to protect people and actively prevent harm, harassment, bullying, abuse and neglect. Learn more in our 'What is safeguarding' page
  • The Charity Commission places duties on charity trustees to ensure that safeguarding is a priority. The Commission expects these duties to be met during the pandemic. All charities must still ensure that they protect and safeguard their beneficiaries, volunteers and staff. Learn more in the Commission's guidance for the charity sector on covid-19.
  • All local authorities retain their legal duties to protect children and adults at risk of harm from abuse, neglect and harm. If you have a safeguarding concern you should report this to your organisation's designated safeguarding lead if you have one or directly to your local authority safeguarding team. Learn more about what to do if you’re worried
  • If a safeguarding concern involves staff or volunteers who have caused harm or posed a significant risk of causing harm to individuals, you should consider making a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Some organisations have a legal duty to make a referral. These duties remain in place. Learn more about making a barring referral
  • If you are a registered charity, you have a duty to inform the Commission where there has been a serious incident in your organisation. This includes where there is an allegation that a staff member or volunteer has abused a beneficiary during the pandemic or staff allege serious concerns about their working conditions. Read the Commission's guidance on reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission during the coronavirus pandemic.

Consider new risks and issues due to the pandemic

Your organisation may have changed how it's working due to the pandemic. 

  • Your organisation may have increased contact with people who are vulnerable due to age, illness or disability. Those who are clinically vulnerable, or more generally at a higher risk of harm due to the impacts of the virus, may have additional needs. Some may need protection from harm or additional support to help them thrive. 
  • Your organisation may come into contact with people who have more complex needs and fewer avenues to seek support.
  • Your organisation may have new staff or volunteers involved in the organisation who have not had your usual background checks, induction or training. 
  • Your organisation’s existing staff or volunteers may have been asked to take on new or different responsibilities. They may not have had the same level of checks or training as people usually carrying out these roles.  
  • Your organisation may have staff or volunteers who themselves are facing risks due to the pandemic. They may be facing harm whilst working at home or struggling to cope due to the pressures caused as a result of the pandemic. 
  • You may have staff who are furloughed, self-isolating or been unwell due to covid-19. That may change your usual ways of working, who supports your team and who manages safeguarding concerns. 
  • Your organisation may have moved some of its services online and need to build safeguarding measures into the design and delivery of your digital services. If this is the case, read Catalyst’s digital safeguarding guide.

Where your organisation has changed how it works or who it has contact with, you should check you can still meet your safeguarding duties. 

Planning for safeguarding during the pandemic

  • When planning changes to how you work during the pandemic you should:
  • Check that your safeguarding policy and procedures remain fit for purpose due to any changes due to the pandemic. Check the following:
    • Have any key staff or volunteers who are listed been furloughed or changed roles and does the policy and procedure reflect this?
    • Are all the contact details for your designated safeguarding lead correct?
    • How have other organisations you work with, receive referrals from or regularly refer onwards been affected? Have you updated any contact details or which organisations you signpost people towards?
    • Is your system for staff and volunteers to report concerns confidentiality still fit for purpose if they are working from home?
    • Do any changes need to be approved by your management team or trustees?
  • Ensure everyone in your team has a basic understanding of safeguarding. Everyone in your organisation, including all staff and volunteers, should understand they have a responsibility to safeguard people from harm or risk of harm. Learn more on our safeguarding pages.
    • Do any new induction processes introduced include safeguarding?
    • Have you checked that any changes to how you deliver your activities is included in the training provided to and the knowledge of your team?
  • Everyone should know how you expect them to behave; for example by knowing your code of conduct.
    • If you are delivering new activities or in new ways, is your code of conduct still relevant? Are there new issues which you should include?
    • Have you ensured that any new staff or volunteers are aware which code of conduct applies to them?
  • Ensure everyone knows how to spot, respond and then report any safeguarding worries or concerns. You should have a procedure on how to handle safeguarding concerns and a designated safeguarding lead who is trained and supported to deal with a concern. If not, ask people to follow our guidance about what to do if they are worried.
    • Is who you are working with changing? If so, are your team aware of the most relevant issues of harm and signs and symptoms of harm?
    • Have any staff changes due to furlough been considered in how you manage concerns? Have any changes been shared with your team?
  • When planning activities, always consider the different types of harm and abuse and how people may be affected. Learn more about the risks of your roles or activities and how you will manage those risks.
    • Have you updated risk assessments for ongoing activities? These should include not just how to reduce risk of covid-19 transmission but also any changes which bring additional safeguarding risks.
  • You should regularly review any changes you have made to your organisation's approach to safeguarding. Remember, risks can change and you need to stay informed. Seek regular feedback from staff and volunteers.
  • Anyone leading safeguarding in your organisations should check the latest government guidance on how local authorities are expected to manage safeguarding concerns.

Get the right checks on your team

  • All organisations must make sure that trustees, staff and volunteers are suitable and legally able to act in their positions.
  • You should always verify the identity of people – for example as part of the staff recruitment process or for those who wish to volunteer, eg ask to see a driving license or passport.
  • Your organisation should risk assess all staff and voluntary roles, taking into account the working environment, to determine what checks are needed. Look at the roles being carried out, the level of supervision they will have, the risk to them and the people they are working with.
  • The Charity Commission expects all charities to get a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check at a suitable level when a role is eligible for one. There are different levels and different costs to DBS checks. A basic check costs £23 and there is no eligibility requirement. Standard and enhanced checks are free for volunteers but are only available for certain roles. To learn more about getting checks read our guide to getting started with criminal records checks.
  • Your risk assessment of the role should tell you if it involves ‘regulated activity’ and requires a standard or enhanced DBS check. Regulated activities include transporting, teaching and caring, including personal care to those who are vulnerable due to age, illness or disability. Many common coronavirus-related roles are not regulated, and therefore do not require a DBS barred list check. These include:
    • shopping for people who are self-isolating
    • picking up prescriptions
    • driving (with the exception of transporting patients)
    • befriending
    • posting mail
    • delivering items or dog walking.
  • If the purpose of the role is to support someone who is self-isolating, this does not automatically make this regulated activity. You don’t need a DBS check to help out a family member. No one under the age of 16 years old should apply for a DBS check.
  • Information provided on a DBS check is tailored for the role it was provided for. Where a member of your team has previously had a DBS check but is undertaking a different role or has adapted duties a higher level of criminal record check may be necessary. You should seek the right check for the activity they will be undertaking and not presume that a previous DBS check is appropriate.
  • If you decide to seek a basic DBS check, there is updated responsible organisation guidance on GOV.UK.
  • Some people have been barred from engaging in ‘regulated activity’ with children, adults or both. It is against the law for someone on the barred list to work, apply for work or volunteer in ’regulated activity’ with children and/or adults. It is also against the law to allow someone to work or volunteer in ‘regulated activity’ if you know that they are barred. Both offences can result in a prison sentence of up to five years and/or a fine. To prevent this you must get the right level of check when someone is doing regulated activity with your organisation.
  • If you are new to getting criminal record checks or need to seek a DBS check on a role for the first time, follow our guide to getting started with criminal records checks.

Recognising and reporting scams

  • Coronavirus has led to an increase in scams and false offers of help. Common scams include:
    • cold calling homes and offering to help those self-isolating with shopping
    • fundraising, door to door or online, for donations to develop a covid-19 vaccine
    • scam emails offering fake products such as anti-bacterial gels or a cure for coronavirus.
  • Make all your team aware of current scams.
  • Ask your team to remind those they are helping not to give out credit or debit card details, personal identification numbers or passwords. Your team should never ask for this information.
  • Help your team show who they are by providing them with an email or text message with your group or organisation’s details, and a contact telephone number.
  • Ask your team to report anything suspicious regarding fraudulent activity to your organisation, the person leading any. Anyone can report concerns to Action Fraud.
  • For more information to safeguard against scams, visit the National Trading Standards website. Their campaign Friends Against Scams will help your volunteers to recognise scams and help those they are helping to be aware of them. They also offer a free elearning course.
Page last edited Sep 10, 2021

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