Coronavirus and Charities – FAQs

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This note is up to date as at 3 April 2020.

The situation is changing frequently, and guidance is being issued daily. If you have any specific questions, you should seek professional advice.  We have also sought to give a practical view based on our shared experience as charity lawyers, but this is not to be relied upon as generic advice.

The current unprecedented situation with regards to the current pandemic is affecting every sector of the economy, and the charities sector is no exception. The Government have provided guidance for the charity sector, which they are updating on an ongoing basis. It offers practical and generic guidance in relation to, amongst other things, postponing or cancelling AGMs, holding meetings by video and serious incident reporting.

Whilst organisations will no doubt be trying to operate on an ‘business as usual” basis, it remains important that charity trustees remain aware and conscious of how the decisions they make now may have a wider or longer impact.

Set out below is a set of FAQs which you should help answer some commonly asked questions.

CHARITY GOVERNANCE

What should I do if I cannot file a charity’s annual return on time?  

If you are due to submit an annual return imminently for a registered charity, but feel unable to do so due to the coronavirus pandemic, you should contact the Charity Commission by telephone on 0300 066 9197 to request a filing extension.

For more information, please click here.

Have the Commission provided any guidance on managing charity finances during the outbreak?

The Commission has provided advice in relation to using reserves and restricted funds to help organisations though the crisis and obtaining government support to pay wages.

For more information, please click here.

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and are charities eligible for financial support through it?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows employers to access financial support to cover 80 per cent of employees’ wages up to a cap of £2,500pcm, per employee. This is to be treated as an alternative for staff that would have otherwise been made redundant during this crisis. This is being referred to as ‘furloughing’ workers.

The Chancellor confirmed this scheme applies to charitable or non-profit employers. Employers are eligible to access help through the scheme for employees that have been paid through PAYE since 28 February 2020. Anyone hired after this date cannot be furloughed, but staff made redundant after this date can be re-hired and then furloughed. Full-time, part-time, agency and zero-hours workers are all eligible for the scheme.

As an employer, if you do want to furlough any workers, you should write to the employee confirming they have been furloughed and keep a record of this communication. It is important that when an employee is furloughed, they do not engage in any work-related activities. There are limited exceptions in relation to training and volunteering, so long as the activities the employee engages do not provide services or generate income for the charity. As a charity, you will want to take special precaution around the exception for volunteering, as this can result in generating income.

Organisations in receipt of public funding to pay their staff costs should be aware that this may affect their eligibility for the scheme and should seek advice before furloughing any workers.

For more information, the Government has published guidance on support for businesses and guidance on the Job Retention Scheme. Alternatively, please speak to our employment team here.”

 

FUNDRAISING

Should I continue with planned public fundraising I have organised?

The Fundraising Regulator (FR) and Institute of Fundraising (IoF) have advised charities to “reflect seriously” on whether they should continue public fundraising, in light of the current Government guidance on social distancing.

Charities are advised to:

  • carry out a thorough risk assessment of any planned fundraising (including any face-to-face, door-to-door and private site events); and
  • document any decision making to continue public fundraising and ensure these decisions are made by the charity trustees.

The IoF has also set out steps it is taking in order to help support the public fundraising sector at this challenging time. For the full statement, please click here.

 

What do I need to consider if fundraising online?

It may be that you decide to adjust your organisation’s fundraising practices to be able to continue some or all of your fundraising operations, and to focus efforts to, or increase your level of, online fundraising.

If you intend to carry out any direct marketing by telephone, email, text or post, you must consider whether the processing of any personal data complies with both the Code of Fundraising Practice and also data protection legislation.

For more information, please click here.

 

We appreciate that this note will not answer all your questions, nor is it a substitute for detailed legal advice on the specific circumstances you are facing, but we do hope it is helpful.

If you have specific queries or would like detailed legal advice, please contact any member of the Charities Team or call 0191 211 7777.