Ombudsman rules Charity Commission failed to properly handle safeguarding concerns related to sexual exploitation

The Charity Commission failed to properly handle serious safeguarding concerns relating to sexual exploitation at a charity, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has found.

Lara Hall, 35, complained that the Commission failed to appropriately respond to her concerns about her sexual exploitation by a trustee at a UK charity.

Lara, who previously waived her right to anonymity, said the Commission failed to communicate sensitively as would have been appropriate given that they were working with a survivor of sexual abuse and a whistleblower.

The investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found failings in how the Commission communicated with Lara. It also found that the Commission could not show that it had followed its safeguarding and risk assessment guidance. The Commission failed to give Lara clear information throughout the handling of her complaint and did not explain why it decided not to proceed with a course of action it had previously assured her it was going to take.

The Ombudsman recommended that the Commission apologises to Lara, provides financial compensation and takes action to stop the same failures being repeated. This includes reviewing its handling of her case and its risk assessment guidance, and obtaining an independent review of its communication with complainants. 

Lara said:

“I feel institutionally betrayed by the Commission. It made repeated commitments to me to deregister the charity and said it would do all it could to disable the trustee from acting in the name of charity in future, but the Commission dramatically changed regulatory course. This left me feeling incredibly vulnerable and confused.

“I feel so thankful and humbled to the PHSO for its diligent and thorough investigation into my complaint. I’m disappointed at the lack of contrition from the Commission. It has not set right its failings, and I have fears for the ongoing risks in my personal case, but also how that leads into a wider institutional cultural problem.

“If the Commission doesn’t comply, Parliament must intervene to hold it to account and ensure that we have a watchdog that is accountable and answerable. Vulnerable people should feel safe reporting their concerns and they should feel their complaints are validly listened to.”

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Rebecca Hilsenrath said:

“Our investigation uncovered a number of failings around the Charity Commission’s handling of serious safeguarding concerns. It is important that the Commission apologises for its mistakes and reassures Lara that it will put things right.

“The purpose of our investigations is to encourage learning and service improvement and we invite the Commission to work with us in this spirit to ensure that nobody else has to endure a similar experience in the future.”

PHSO has investigated another complaint about the Commission and how it handled safeguarding concerns. The investigation report will be published once discussions with the Commission about that case have concluded.

Read the full investigation summary.