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COVID-19 Guidance for Charity Sector

Charity objects: understand if you can help with coronavirus efforts

Naturally, charities are considering whether they can help the effort to tackle COVID-19 and its severe impact on people right across the country. Charities should first consider the terms of their charity’s existing charitable objects. These are set out in your governing document.
Objects that might already allow your charity to offer support include:

  • the relief of poverty
  • the relief of need hardship or distress
  • the relief of the elderly
  • the advancement of education or advancement in life of young people
  • the advancement of health

Trustees of charities with other objects may also be able to adapt and respond to COVID-19 either directly or indirectly.

In considering what your charity can do under your existing objects you will need to check whether your objects have restrictions, for example, to benefit a particular local area or class of beneficiaries.

If your existing objects do not allow you to help, you may be able to amend your governing document to change them. But consider carefully:

  • whether there are other charities that may be better placed to respond than yours. You can find contact details for relevant local charities on our register
  • the wider and longer-term impacts of changing your charity’s objects including on your existing beneficiaries

If you want to change your charitable objects, you should check to see whether your trustees have the powers to amend them, for example using an express power in your governing document. If this is not the case, you may need permission from The Charity Commission.
Any changes proposed should be reasonable, consistent with what your charity does, and not undermine your existing objects. The Charity Commission will prioritise requests required urgently because of COVID-19.

Government financial support for charities

The Chancellor has announced a £750 million package of support for frontline charities.
The government has also said that charities can access many of the measures the Chancellor previously announced for businesses. Please refer to our Coronavirus Support for Business section.
Please refer to our section on Coronavirus Funding for Frontline Charities.

Using reserves and restricted funds

Understandably, many charities are currently very concerned about their financial position. In the first instance, trustees should consider what are their short, medium and longer term priorities, and consider if they need to amend their financial planning given their current situation. Trustees are encouraged in particular to think about whether or not certain projects, spends or activities can be stopped or delayed in order to focus on essential spending if they are facing financial challenges at this time.

Reserves can be spent to help cope with unexpected events like those unfolding at present.

Charities should identify which of the funds or assets have limits on their use. If these are internal only, you may be able to re-prioritise these. If they are restricted funds, meaning they cannot be spent at your (trustees) discretion, then they may only be used for a particular and defined purpose.

If there are restrictions, in some instances there may be ways to amend these restrictions, but accessing or releasing restricted funds should only be considered if other options such as reserves are not possible. The Commissioner encourages Charities to also carefully consider the wider and longer term impacts of making such a decision on the financial resilience and donor relationships.

All decisions on such financial matters should normally be taken collectively, and significant decisions and action points noted in writing.

AGMs and other meetings: postponing or cancelling meetings

Coronavirus is having a major impact on charity events and the government’s health advice may lead to some charities having no choice but to decide to cancel or postpone their AGMs and other critical meetings.

If as trustees, you decide it is necessary to do so, you should record this decision to demonstrate good governance of your charity. This is particularly important if it is not possible to hold an AGM which may make it difficult to finalise annual reports and accounts.

Wherever possible, The Charity Commissioner (TCO) would ask charities to try to get their annual reports on time. However, where the situation impacts on the completion of annual returns and accounts, charities with an imminent filing date should email TCO.

You should include your charity name and charity registration number when you email them: [email protected]

Holding meetings online or by telephone

In the current situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold face-to-face meetings. Some charities have clauses in their governing documents that allow them to meet virtually or to use telephone facilities, therefore trustees should check their governing document and see if they can make amendments themselves to facilitate changes as to how or when meetings are held.

Where there is no such clause in the governing document and the charity decides to hold meetings over the phone or using digital solutions, charities are encouraged to record this decision and that this has been done to demonstrate good governance of the charity.

We are ourselves issuing regular updates via our website and e-mail cannons. If you are not receiving these and would like to be added to the list please e-mail [email protected] with the subject “Add me to your COVID-19 e-mails”