The Charity Commission has announced on its blog that it has established a whistleblowing hotline in response to recent criticism of how it has handled whistleblowers in the past. Current or potential whistleblowers will receive confidential advice and assistance to decide how to best raise their concerns and whether these should be reported to the Commission.
The hotline is part of a £53,000 fund which was announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport in October 2018 to improve safeguarding. It will be run independently by Protect, a charity that specialises in whistleblowing, and has been advising whistleblowers for the past 25 years.
Workers or volunteers of charities who are concerned about the way a charity is being run can call the hotline to discuss their concerns confidentially with a trained adviser. The adviser will discuss with the whistleblower whether this is a regulatory matter that should be passed to the Commission. If necessary, the Commission will then contact the whistleblower directly to discuss the concerns they have raised and provide them with a direct contact point if they need to speak to the Commission in future. The partnership will help to ensure that the Commission receives the information it needs to truly be effective and detect and act on reports from whistleblowers about charities at serious risk of causing harm.
The Commission has also updated its guidance, 'Report serious wrongdoing at a charity as a worker or volunteer', to include a section entitled 'Get Independent Advice'. This section lists the contact information for the new hotline and the services it provides. The guidance, first published in October 2018, sets out the types of wrongdoing a person can report, how to make a report, and how the Commission can help. The guidance advises that reports should be restricted to previous, current or likely future issues that could cause serious harm, such as where a crime is committed, there has been a loss of charitable funds, or if a person's health or safety is in danger.
In addition, the guidance provides a list of questions the Commission would want answered when reporting concern so that potential whistleblowers know what information they need to cover. The Protect hotline will ensure that whistleblowers have all the information needed to make a report and allow them to discuss whether their concerns fit into the Commission's definition of serious harm.
The announcement of the hotline comes in the wake of criticism of the Commission for how it has handled recent whistleblowing reports. In particular, Oxfam's former head of global safeguarding, Helen Evans, claimed that the Commission failed to meet or speak with her regarding Oxfam's handling of sexual misconduct claims. Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, also disapproved of how the Commission responded to the Oxfam issue, specifically pointing out that the Commission failed to take action in response to concerns raised by Ms Evans in June and August of 2015 and questioned how many other whistleblowers have brought safeguarding concerns to the Commission which have been ignored.
The hotline is part of the Commission's work to make it easier for charity workers and volunteers to raise serious concerns about the charity they work for and bring those concerns to the Commission's attention.
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