A recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the UK means new measures are being put in place in an effort to reduce the risk of a second wave. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, it is important to remain focused on the sector’s road to recovery.

To help protect the future of charity shops the Charity Tax Group (CTG) and Charity Retail Association (CRA) are urging the government to lift state aid restrictions on the retail grant scheme. The state aid limit on the scheme limits assistance to approximately 30 retail shops. For larger charities this means only a small number of their stores will receive aid. After the government announced an underspend of more than £1.3 billion across the now closed Small Business Grants Fund, Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund and the Discretionary Grants Fund, the two groups are calling on the government to remove this state aid limit. The CRA and CTG argue the policy change would not cause unbudgeted costs. The change would allow larger charities to re-open more retail stores by mitigating running costs and preventing further extended periods of closure.

Good news, and potentially major savings, comes in the form of updated guidance from HMRC on the VAT charity digital advertising relief. In an attempt to clarify the murky distinction between ‘selected’ and ‘natural’ internet advertising, HMRC have updated their policy to allow a wider range of targeted advertising to fall under the zero rate, as long as all other conditions are met. Click here for an exhaustive list of the new zero-rated types of advertising.

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

Social gatherings limited to six people

In response to a sharp rise in infections, the government has announced new laws that will make social gatherings of more than six people unlawful in England. Coming into force on Monday 14 September, the law will apply to all ages and to gatherings that are indoors or outdoors, in private homes or public spaces. This new law does not apply to an individual household or support bubble of more than six people. While a full set of exemptions is not yet available, the government has confirmed that the six-person limit will not apply to schools or workplaces.

The good news is that weddings and funerals are also confirmed to be exempt from the new social gathering law. Places of worship are confirmed to be exempt from the “rule of six”. This means that places of worship can host more than six people (subject to all ‘Covid secure’ requirements being met) but household groups attending must not mix to form larger groups. Again, a household or support bubble that already has more than six people can attend but must not interact with other groups.

It will be important for those attending places of worship to follow the government’s three ‘key behaviours’:

  • Hands – wash hands for 20 seconds and repeat regularly
  • Face – wear a face covering indoors where social distancing may be difficult. This will be important for indoor services. Remember to be aware that some people attending may be exempt from wearing a mask and their reason for exemption may not be visible
  • Space – maintain social distancing of two metres, or one metre with extra precautions in place (such as face coverings)

Please note that if you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland different rules and laws may apply. If you are in an area with a particularly high infection rate or an area subject to a local lockdown stricter measures may be in place.

Pro Bono Economics announces the Law Family Commission on Civil Society

The Commission will be creating new ideas to allow the civil society to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. Building a stronger civil society will allow the sector to continue its vital work whilst being able to fulfil its potential.

Inclusivity is key as the Commission will be carrying out research to enable the social sector, public sector and private sector to be fully operational. Pro Bono Economics’ CEO, Matt Whittaker, said “The government rightly wants to ‘level up’ left behind areas and to build back better. Doing that will require a focus not just on economic growth but on community cohesion, equality of opportunity and equity of outcome.”

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society will be formally launched later in autumn. Further details on the announcement can be found here

The Charity Commission launches new website

The Charity Commission has launched its new and improved online charities register. The new design aims to increase transparency, allowing the public access to a broader range of information.

The new improvements in the information provided about a charity include:

  • The number of staff in the charity earning more than £60,000;
  • Whether the Commission has taken regulatory action against the charity, including details of the action taken;
  • Any government grants the charity receives, as well as any government contracts;
  • Details on whether the charity works with a professional fundraiser; and
  • Specific policies the charity may have in place, such as safeguarding and conflicts of interest.

The new register is aimed at providing ease-of-use for charity trustees and the general public alike. The Commission plans to keep improving the site and is welcoming feedback from all users. Writing on the Commission’s blog post, Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, shared her hope “that the new display will encourage charities to continue to respond to growing public expectations around transparency and accountability.”

Funding opportunities

Charities are continuing to struggle as the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on the charities sector. To assist charities in recovering, new funding has been announced:

  • Morrisons Foundation is inviting charities to apply for grants of up to £25,000. The focus of the funding is on charity projects that will make a difference in local communities. Please also note the Foundation has produced a list of projects for which it will not generally consider grant funding.
  • The Lloyds Bank Foundation has launched its infrastructure fund. With total available funds of £480,000 the infrastructure fund is looking to make 16 grants of £30,000 each to assist infrastructure charities in covering their core costs over one or two years. The fund has ringfenced 25% of the grants for organisations supporting BAME-led charities. In addition to the financial support, the fund will also offer non-financial guidance. The deadline for applications is 9 October 2020.

Protection from eviction: church successful in unlawful eviction claim

Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd V Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd : Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd V Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd (2020)

It is not possible to evict a tenant occupying premises under the protection of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 (“the Act”) without service of the proper statutory notices, as the property developer in this case was made to heed. Further, the Court is willing to punish a party whose behaviour it deems to be especially poor.

A church, occupying premises under a rental agreement, sought an order from the Court that it was the tenant of the premises and enjoyed the benefit of the protection of the Act. The church also claimed exemplary and aggravated damages for unlawful eviction on the part of the landlord, whom it appeared had deliberately avoided taking any of the proper steps under the Act and engaged aggressively towards the church. The landlord counterclaimed for rent arrears by virtue of a deed of assignment.

The church was successful in claiming for unlawful eviction as the Court made a declaration that it had a tenancy that was protected by Part II of the Act and that it was entitled to remain in possession until the tenancy was determined in accordance with the Act. As the landlord knew, to terminate a tenancy (and evict) a tenant protected under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, statutory notices must be served. The landlord had tried to argue that the church did not occupy under a lease but by trial had conceded that a tenancy existed. In the circumstances, to have evicted the church without following the necessary process was unlawful.

As a result of the landlord’s conduct, including the manner in which the eviction took place, the church was awarded the costs of hiring a locksmith and replacing the locks and keys, costs on indemnity basis, general damages of £1,500 and exemplary damages equating to three months’ rent. Exemplary damages are damages ordered by the Court to punish another party for its poor conduct and here the Court considered that the landlord’s conduct was directed at avoiding dealing with the church’s rights under the protected tenancy. The Court did note that as the church was a company it could not claim for aggravated damages, which are another form of damages designed to compensate a party’s distress and injury, as under existing case law a company cannot suffer distress or injury. The damages were ordered to be set off against the rent arrears the Court found to be due to the landlord.

Should you require advice on your rights under a tenancy agreement or other occupational agreement, or should you encounter issues with a landlord, our property litigation team is able to assist you.

For more information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter, please get in touch with your usual ACS contact or contact Phil Watts.

Phil is a Senior Associate specialising in charity law and governance. During lockdown he has enjoyed getting fitter by doing much more walking. He has also welcomed granddaughters Eliza and Maisie in February and August and is enjoying getting to know them!