Six months after the first recorded case of COVID-19 in the UK, it is clear that charities, community organisations and volunteers have played a huge role in the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) has produced a report highlighting the work that Muslim led organisations, local groups and volunteers have done to address an array of needs created or worsened by the crisis. Examples include supplying vulnerable individuals with food and medicine, supporting survivors of domestic violence and single parents. The report, available to read here, also looks at the challenges that organisations faced during the crisis – and continue to face – and lessons we can learn to improve any future response.

Catch up with all the latest charity updates in this fortnight’s news round-up.

New rules for virtually witnessing Wills

The Government announced last week that it will become legal in England and Wales to witness wills via video link. Though the change in law will not be made until September, it will be backdated to 31 January, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK. Any wills which were witnessed remotely from 31 January onwards will be legally accepted. The move will help to modernise will-making, but the Government has warned that the use of video technology should be seen as a last resort and that individuals must continue to arrange the physical witnessing of wills wherever possible. It is hoped that the changes will increase legacy giving, generating more income for charities.

For more information, please click here to read Donna Holmes’ e-briefing.

Practical guidance on reopening

The Government has issued an update to its guidance on the safe use of places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The update means that communal worship can be now be attended by more than 30 people, but only where the “venue can safely accommodate larger numbers in a way which complies with Covid-secure guidance.” The update contains a helpful checklist of dos and don’ts and continues to advise against singing.

The Muslim Charities Form has also published practical guidance on how charitable organisations can reopen safely. This includes advice on how employers can explore the use of flexible working hours, workplace planning and how changes can reduce emissions.

Finally, The Chartered Governance Institute (ICSA) has also issued advice for charity trustees on how charities can reopen safely.

For more information, click here to read our Regulatory team’s e-briefings for reopening charities.

Charity Commission annual report published

The Charity Commission’s annual report for the year to March 2020 has now been published. The report found that 60% of charity applications resulted in successful registration, and whilst the Charity Commission saw an increase in the volume of its work, it reduced the total volume of ‘queued’ casework by 80%. Notably, the Charity Commission received 5,730 serious incident reports: an increase of 1,835 from last year. Whistleblowing report also increased, as did the number of statutory inquiries which were concluded.

For 2020-2021, the Charity Commission’s business plan sets out two key priorities: increasing its transparency and availability to charities and the public, and aligning its day-to-day work with its strategic goals. To meet these goals, the regulator plans to eradicate its backlog and provide quicker responses.

Deadline for charities review

Last month, the Prime Minister asked MP Danny Kruger to investigate how the role of the charity sector can be maximised as part of a Government review. Kruger’s brief included consulting with “civil society organisations, local authorities…. community groups, faith groups, charities and social enterprises”, all of which will be encouraged to provide active contributions to the Government’s well-publicised “levelling up agenda”. The deadline to deliver the recommendations was Friday 24 July.

Whilst there have been concerns about how quickly the consultation was carried out and the level of BAME, disability, and LGBT representation, there is hope that the review will be the start of a collaborative relationship between the Government and the charities sector.

Coronavirus related funding

Charities are continuing to struggle in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global Development charity African Initiatives announced last week that it would need to close down next year after facing protracted difficulties in raising income. It comes as many large charities, such as Comic Relief and Blood Cancer UK, announce significant cost-saving measures, including large-scale redundancies.

To help charities recover from the effects of the pandemic, new funding has been announced:

  • NHS Charities Together will distribute £65 million in two new rounds of grants: £30 million for community partnership grants and £35 million for recovery grants. The purpose of these grants will be to support work that is being done to tackle the longer-term effects of COVID-19.
  • The Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales has launched its Covid Recovery Fund today and applications open today, 3 August. Up to £7.4 million is available which be distributed in two-year unrestricted grants worth up to £50,000. The funds will be granted to charities to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt their work and fundraising.
For more information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter, please speak to or email your usual ACS contact or contact us here.

Safa Murad

Safa Murad is a solicitor in the Charities and Social Business Team and specialises in advising charities, social businesses and housing providers on governance-related issues. ‘Out of the office’ during lockdown, Safa has enjoyed exploring the history and architecture of her local surroundings - on foot!