Coronavirus guidance for the charity sector

1st April 2020

This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us, both personally and professionally. We know that many charity trustees will be juggling the numerous challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak, whether these are at home, at work or in their own time.

For many trustees, continuing to manage a charity must seem like a monumental task on top of everything we are already facing.

In order to help with this challenge, the Charity Commission has this week issued new guidance to assist trustees with running a charity during the coronavirus outbreak. This is being regularly updated to address trustees’ commonly asked questions and concerns and can be found here.

The key points are:

  • Assisting with tackling coronavirus – Many trustees would like their charity to offer support in the effort to fight the virus and the impact it has had on people across the country. Whether this will be possible depends on the charity’s objects, which can be found in its constitution or on the charity register here. The guidance offers helpful tips on which charitable objects may be best suited to helping the effort, and how to adapt the charity’s existing activities to respond to coronavirus.
  • Support to pay charity staff – Charities which employ staff can contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of their workforce who remain on payroll but are temporarily not working during the coronavirus outbreak. Any employer in the country – small or large, charitable or non-profit – is eligible for the scheme.
  • Using reserves and restricted funds to help the charity through the crisis – Unfortunately, many charities will have concerns about their financial position over the coming months. Some projects may need to be delayed or cancelled due to the current restrictions in place, which can pose challenges, but this can also help the charity to focus on essential spending. Reserves may be spent to help cope with unexpected events such as these, provided they are not “restricted funds”, i.e. can be spent at the trustees’ discretion. It will be worth considering which of the charity’s funds could be made available quickly to be put towards protecting the charity’s future.
  • Cancelling / postponing your AGM or other key meetings – Many charities will have no choice but to cancel their meetings given the government’s health advice. Trustees should record this decision to demonstrate good governance.
  • Holding meetings by video / teleconferencing – Where you cannot hold face-to-face meetings, check your charity’s governing document to see if it allows you to use video or telephone conferencing. If not, you may be able to amend the document to facilitate this. If you decide to hold meetings this way even though this is not permitted by your governing document, the Commission has indicated that it will be understanding in the circumstances, but you should document this decision carefully.
  • Filing annual reports and accounts – If the coronavirus outbreak impacts on your ability to submit your annual returns and accounts to the Commission, for instance because you have had to cancel your AGM, you should call the Commission to let them know.
  • Serious incident reports (SIR) – The Commission recognises that during this pandemic, many charities will face extremely demanding challenges. Trustees are still required to report serious incidents to the Commission with reference to the current SIR guidelines. You should use your judgment in deciding whether an incident is significant in the context of your charity and therefore should be reported. The Commission will prioritise incidents that place individuals at risk and/or have a significant impact on the charity’s operations.
  • Keeping people safe – In these circumstances is it more important than ever for charities to consider how to ensure its beneficiaries, volunteers and staff are safe, particularly those who are unwell or vulnerable, or who are self-isolating. The Commission’s safeguarding guidance offers helpful advice for charities on how to keep people safe and the steps to take if you have any concerns.

If you would like any support or assistance with the above, or with any other challenges your charity is currently facing, please let us know. Blake Morgan has a wide range of skills and teams that can help you with managing the challenges presented by coronavirus.

Our charity team has a particular expertise in risk management for charities and we offer some guidance on this on our dedicated page here.

If you have any queries about the guidance above, or there are any other issues we can help you with, please do get in touch with Ben Brice or Laura Sherratt.

This article was originally posted on 25 March and updated on 1 April.

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