Charity Commission

Charities urged to consider terrorism risk

December 22, 2015 | Nick Taylor

The Charity Commission has urged all charities to be aware of the risk of radicalisation and extremism that can lead to abuse for terrorist related purposes (pictured Charity Commission Chairman, William Shawcross).

In a new report – Tackling abuse and mismanagement 2014-15 – the Commission sets out how Charities and Trustees should work to minimise the risks facing charities.

20% of all Commission disclosures to the Police and agencies relate to counter-terrorism and extremism

In his foreword to the report, Charity Commission Chairman, William Shawcross says: “Our work to counter terrorism and extremism continues; which is one of the most deadly threats faced by some charities today. Although not the majority of our work, or an area that affects all

“Although not the majority of our work, or an area that affects all charities, in the same way, it is significant, and we work closely to support other agencies in this area, representing over 20 per cent of the disclosures made between us, the police and other agencies.”

Charities – Extremism and Terrorism (report extract)

Charities and their work can provide important protection against extremism and terrorism. Schools, for example, can play a vital role in preparing young people to challenge extremism and the ideology of terrorism. Similarly, faith organisations can challenge ideology that claims religious justification for terrorism. Civil society, of which charities are a key part, is also an important place for the free exchange of views and debate which can inhibit propagandists of extremism and terrorism. This is why it is so important for us, and other government agencies, to collaborate meaningfully and effectively with charities and civil society on these issues.

However, some charities, like other types of organisations, can be at risk of being used for radicalisation and abused by extremists and terrorist groups. The level of risk facing individual charities will depend on the nature of their work and on where and how in the world they operate. If your charity provides aid in conflict zones, the risks may involve working in or close to areas in which armed or terrorist groups operate.

As the humanitarian crisis in Syria has unfolded over the last few years, charities have been involved in delivering critical humanitarian aid and relief to those in need. Some people were motivated to go to conflict zones themselves as volunteers to assist, sometimes travelling on aid convoys. Many have good intentions, but some have used convoys as a means of moving people, funds and material for other motives. Some individuals did not return from Syria at the same time as their colleagues and may have been recruited by terrorist groups. We do not condone or support the use of aid convoys as an effective or safe way to deliver aid, and have issued alerts warning of the risks.

Whether your charity uses convoys, has staff on the ground or works through local partners, you as a trustee carry an important responsibility in ensuring that money and goods can be accounted for and reach those they are intended for, and do not get into the hands of others, including terrorist groups or used for terrorist purposes.

Charity Commission role in preventing and tackling the abuse of charity for terrorist purposes

Terrorist acts, the funding of and support for terrorist groups and activities are criminal matters. Whenever we identify concerns about possible terrorist-related issues, we work with the police and other agencies.
Our role as regulator is to help ensure trustees comply with charity law duties, take steps to protect their charities from being misused and to ensure that charity funds and property are used and applied properly. See our counter-terrorism strategy for more information.

Charities working in the UK can also be vulnerable to abuse. People with extremist views, who encourage and support terrorism and terrorist ideology, have used charity events to make those views known, or used charities to promote or distribute extremist views or literature, including through online media. This can take various forms, such as through the use of a charity’s premises, through speakers at charity events, or use of a charity’s reach through internet use and social networking.

Activities may be carried out by someone involved in or connected to a charity, by individuals outside of it, or by other organisations. As trustees, you must protect your charity against such abuse. Charity law does not prevent charities, when furthering their lawful purposes, from promoting or supporting views that are controversial. But if your charity gives a platform, in whatever way, to radical and extremist views, you may be failing to fulfil your charity’s purposes for the public benefit and may be breaking the law.

Ensuring your charity carries out its purposes for the public benefit is 1 of the 6 key duties of charity trustees, as explained in our core guidance, The essential trustee (CC3).

Did you know?

Trustees must avoid activities that may place their charity’s funds, assets or reputation at undue risk.

Case study

Concerns were raised with us about a charity’s use of external guest speakers at its events. We advised the charity’s trustees about findings of our own research into individuals the charity had invited to one of its future events. We questioned whether the individuals in question were suitable to take part in the charity’s event because of comments attributed to them. We asked the trustees whether they had undertaken any due diligence before inviting the speakers and whether they had fully considered whether it was in the charity’s best interests for the individuals to take part. The trustees considered this and, in response to our concerns, revoked the invitations to the guest speakers concerned. We reviewed the charity’s policies and procedures for carrying out due diligence on invited guest speakers and the controls the charity had in place to manage events at which external speakers are invited. We found a number of weaknesses in the charity’s systems and provided the trustees with regulatory advice and guidance to help them better protect the charity from the risk of abuse arising from hosting external speakers. We will monitor the actions taken by the trustees in response to the regulatory advice and guidance we provided.

In 2014-15, allegations made and concerns about abuse of charities for terrorist or extremist purposes, including concerns about charities operating in Syria and other higher risk areas, in which terrorist groups operate, featured in:

11 reports of a serious incident
32 pre-investigation assessment cases2
20 investigations

The Commission also carried out 80 visits and/or monitoring cases during the year to charities which are of greater risk and more susceptible to risk of terrorist or extremist abuse because of where they operate (eg in conflict zones) or due to their activities (eg because they regularly invite speakers to charity events). These were proactively identified by the Commission, or identified as a result of serious incident reports, complaints, or concerns raised in the media.

Of the 11 serious incidents reported to them in 2014-15 that involved concerns about abuse of charities for terrorist or extremist purposes, 2 came from charities whose staff members or goods had been detained by terrorist groups.

2,350 disclosures took place between the Commission and other agencies about charity related queries; of these, 506 related to terrorism and extremism queries or with agencies working with charities most affected by these risks.

What the Commission does to help charities prevent and protect themselves against terrorist-related abuse and how they respond to concerns raised

The Commission Counter-terrorism strategy explains their role and approach in the context of terrorist-related abuse of charities. They are not a criminal regulator, so it is not for them to investigate alleged crimes. But they have an important role in helping charities to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place, and in ensuring abuse is reported, stopped and the charity is better protected in the future.

They very much see this as a collaborative role. For example, they proactively work with charities working in high-risk areas around the world, to help trustees understand how to prevent their charity’s assets being diverted or their reputations being harmed and pass on best practice in due diligence and monitoring.

They recently issued an alert to charities reminding them of the need to report any suspicions that their funds or assets may have been diverted to terrorist groups to the police, and to us. They did this because charities are telling us when we meet with them in our outreach work and inspection visits, that they are not aware of this legal duty. It is also important the public understand the difficult circumstances and increasing risks in which some charities operate. In some cases, their staff and volunteers risk their lives to deliver humanitarian aid in hard to reach places.

How to protect your charity against abuse for terrorist related purposes

They expect trustees to be vigilant to ensure that their charity’s facilities, assets, staff, volunteers and other resources cannot be used for activities that may, or appear to, support or condone terrorist or extremist activities. The normal steps you take to ensure good governance and strong financial management will help protect you against all kinds of abuse, including this. So as a trustee, you need to consider what procedures should be put in place to prevent others from taking advantage of your charity. What that means in practice will depend on your charity’s individual circumstances. Trustees should also take all necessary steps to ensure their activities or views promoted cannot be misinterpreted.

You can find further information about how to protect your charity in Commission published guidance:


Alert: Terrorism Act and trustee responsibilities

Under counter-terrorism legislation, trustees are legally required to report suspicions or beliefs regarding terrorists operating in countries or areas where terrorist groups or organisations exert control, are known to operate, or where there is a risk of terrorism. Under counter-terrorism legislation, trustees, charity employees and volunteers are legally required to report suspicions or beliefs that a terrorist financing offence has occurred. Such reports must be made in accordance with s.19 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The commission is alert to the risks charities and their staff face when working in unstable and dangerous locations, and recognises the potential risk of loss caused by terrorist groups. All charities working in areas with terrorism risks need to assess and manage these while always acting reasonably and in the best interests of their charity. Trustees must remain alert and vigilant to the risk to their charity’s operations through proximity to terrorist groups or organisations.

Find out more information, including how to report suspicions or beliefs in accordance with legal obligations, and ensure your charity’s staff are aware of their legal requirements.