Over 350 charities that work overseas providing services to children and/or vulnerable adults were invited by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to an Essential safeguarding good practice seminar earlier this year.

The Commission’s Essential safeguarding good practice seminar, the first of its kind was held by the charity regulator in May 2018, at NICVA in Belfast.

“Charities that work with or support vulnerable beneficiaries are in a position of particular trust and power; even one small safeguarding failure can have a devastating impact on the charity’s beneficiaries, staff and supporters" - Punam McGookin, the Commission’s Head of Charity Services.

The objective of the seminar was to remind charity trustees of their duties and responsibilities with the commission aiming to;

  • Raise awareness of the relationship between good safeguarding practice and the delivery of good governance.
  • Inform charities about their duty to report serious incidents to the Commission, including safeguarding matters.
  • Identify the issues facing Northern Ireland charities, in relation to safeguarding employees, volunteers and vulnerable beneficiaries.
  • Support charities to improve their safeguarding practice and ensure that their charity’s values are reflected in all areas of their operation.

The advice given at the seminar applied to both UK-based charities and international NGOs, covering the very different cultures and exposures in place overseas that need to be understood and considered. Considerations are no longer just physical abuse in the main, but include protecting people from other forms of harm including neglect, radicalisation and exploitation to name a few.

Whilst it will not prevent abuse from taking place, having the correct insurance can assist charities gain access to experienced and expert contacts to help all parties through the turmoil.

It is worth noting that insurance varies considerably depending on the insurer, although the most common variants are:

For accusations made by third parties:-

  • Some insurers remain ‘silent’ on the subject, which means that unless any other terms of the policy have been breached or exclusions applicable the full Public Liability insurance indemnity limit applies, which is usually to each and every individual occurrence.
  • Others may exclude the cover from the Public Liability insurance and require the insurance to be bought back for an additional premium, and there may be an inner limit applying that is below the usual Public Liability limit. The way this cover applies is different to the usual Public Liability method of ‘claims occurring’ and is on a ‘claims-made’basis i.e. the cover applies if the claim is made during the period of cover although the incident or period of abuse may be several years earlier. Often this is also on an aggregate (total) limit basis for all claims made during a period of cover.

If accusations are made by staff or volunteers

  • The Employers Liability insurance should respond to claims brought by staff (and volunteers as well if that is how the policy has been set up) and therefore the full Employers Liability indemnity limit would apply, again usually on an any one occurrence basis.
  • Abuse may have happened over a number of years, which can mean that more than one insurer and/or policy will be involved. If the basis of Public Liability cover has changed from ‘occurring’ to ‘claims made’, it is easier to manage than if it has changed vice versa. If it was ‘claims made’ to ‘occurring’ there could be a gap in cover unless the different policies are correctly dovetailed to detail how the different covers apply. It’s important to be clear on this before any loss occurs as this is a potentially very significant.

As mentioned above, insurance will not prevent abuse or harm from taking place, but having it in place can provide tremendous support to charities involved and respond to high damages settlements. Usually these situations are unpleasant and sensitive, so having access to experienced claims and legal professionals can support you to work through the issues but it is also extremely important that the cover is put in place on the correct basis at the outset.