Welcome to our October newsletter.

We hope this finds you well. Recent changes to government Covid-19 guidance in England and Wales has led to some key developments for the voluntary sector, particularly as charities look towards the winter months. Charities operating in the social and healthcare sector may find our ebriefing on mandatory vaccinations in care home settings a useful read.

Covid-19: guidance on volunteering in England update
Volunteering guidance in England has been updated in line with the end of the shielding programme for the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). The Government now recommends that volunteers who are CEV can volunteer but should consider professional healthcare advice for their specific circumstances. They also recommend following the Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread guidance.

Organisations and groups are reminded of their duty of care towards their volunteers. They should ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, volunteers are not exposed to health and safety risks. For charities, this will involve assessing the risks associated with your activities and considering what steps you can take to keep volunteers safe. HSE guidance on working safely during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the Government’s working safely during coronavirus (Covid-19) is available.

If you have any queries about managing the return of volunteers or health and safety, please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

Covid-19 regulations in Wales update
The Welsh Government has also recently updated its Covid-19 Regulations. They have issued several important action cards which will likely be applicable to faith organisations, places of worship and charities. This includes the Places of worship and funerals: potential reasonable measures action card (coronavirus).

Key points from this action card are:

  • The importance of improving ventilation by opening windows and propping open internal doors (but not fire doors) for the duration of a service
  • Maintaining regular cleaning of premises, e.g. by allowing breaks between services for cleaning and disinfecting high footfall areas and high contact touchpoints
  • Taking mitigating action when singing or chanting to reduce the amount of aerosol expelled into the air
  • Remembering face coverings
  • Taking particular care if a person who has tested positive is present at a funeral on compassionate grounds

Action cards should be read in full and if you require any assistance on these issues please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

Updated Charity Commission guidance on electronic meetings
The Charity Commission are no longer giving the discretion to allow electronic meetings if this is not in the charity’s governing document. If trustees intend to hold meetings electronically or on a hybrid basis then they should check their governing documents to confirm that this is allowed. If it is not, then trustees should consider whether they have the power in their governing document to amend the rules to allow electronic meetings and update the document accordingly. If you require any assistance to amend your governing document please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

The Commission’s Coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for the charity sector can be found here.

Outcome of Charity Commission inquiry into Human Aid UK
In 2019 police seized £20,000 in cash from Human Aid UK’s director of operations and two of the charity’s volunteers at Heathrow airport. At the time the director of operations was unable to account for the provenance of the funds or give a clear explanation of how the funds would be transferred or who would receive them. Human Aid UK had been verbally warned against cash couriering by the Charity Commission the day before the police intervention. Due to the lack of explanation provided, the funds were seized and detained by the police under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The money has since been returned to Human Aid UK.

This prompted a Charity Commission inquiry, the results of which criticised Human Aid UK trustees for financial misconduct. The Commission found that “the decision to allow cash couriering to take place, without the proper documentation to show their provenance including the failure to brief the charity’s staff sufficiently on their intended use, is evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity”.

Human Aid UK has responded to the Charity Commission’s findings, saying that it “appears that the Charity Commission powers have been exploited to outsource police and security service harassment faced by Human Aid UK, which raises the question: Is it a crime to care?”.

Regulatory advice and guidance on cash couriering can be found here. If you have any queries about financial management, please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors or alternatively Edwina Turner.

Digital fundraising complaints
Whilst overall complaints to the Fundraising Regulator fell last year, complaints relating to online fundraising are on the increase, seeing a significant rise during the pandemic. Key themes for online fundraising complaints have related to misleading information and restricted donations, with donors becoming worried about where and how their donations will be spent. In response to these findings, the Fundraising Regulator stated that “charities need to be clear about how the money will be used so that donors can trust the information being provided to them as part of a fundraising ask”.

Fundraising guidance from the Charity Commission can be found here. If you have any queries about fundraising, please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

Government reshuffle leads to removal of specific minister for charities
The minister for sports and tourism, Nigel Huddleston, has been given the charities brief after Baroness Barren’s move to the Department for Education. Consequently, there will no longer be a minister whose sole focus is the charities sector. Huddleston has been the minister for sports and tourism since February 2020. Prior to becoming the MP for Mid Worcestershire, he worked as a management consultant. In his previous role, he was already responsible for sports, tourism, heritage, and the upcoming Commonwealth Games. He will now also be the minister for civil society and youth.

New National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) partnership
The NVCO will partner with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to 'collaborate on shared priorities' via a formal partnership programme. The aim is to increase their ability, as a part of the infrastructure community for the voluntary sector, to turn their access to government 'into influencing power'. They will work with the Government to explore how the 'levelling up' agenda can be delivered with the help of the voluntary sector.

Charity Law Association's (CLA) annual conference
At this year’s CLA conference, Ian Karet, the Interim Chair of the Charity Commission, confirmed that the Commission does not have any plans to introduce a charging regime for its services. He also stated that they do not intend to introduce fines for charities that regularly file their accounts late. However, charities should remember and be mindful that late filing of accounts can lead to reputational risk. It could cause damage to the perception of the charity in the minds of the Commission, supporters, members of the public and grant funders and continuing and consistent failure to file accounts can often lead to the Commission exercising their investigatory powers.

Another key point made by the Commission at the conference was that they are increasingly focusing on regulatory issues and will be looking for evidence-based decision making on the part of trustees. This will involve looking at not only the decision trustees have made but also how this decision was arrived at. To evidence this it is vital that good quality minutes are kept of meetings. The CLA is considering producing a template good practice example for recording minutes. In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding these issues please get in touch with your usual contact at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

This increasingly evidence-based approach was also highlighted in the Commission’s discussion of their approach to section 105 applications, which authorise actions expedient in the interests of the charity. John Maton, Head of Charitable Status (Legal Team) at the Charity Commission, iterated that for section 105 applications the Commission requires applicants to drill down into why it is expedient in the interests of the charity to grant the request and provide strong evidence to support this decision.

It was also highlighted that HMRC has confirmed that Gift Aid is claimable on waived refunds and loan repayments to charities. This was a temporary concession granted due to the pandemic in April 2020 and has now been made permanent. Charity Commission guidance on the procedure can be found here.

Training and networking opportunities
Places of Worship Forum
Membership is open for the Scottish Places of Worship Forum (POWF) which is part of the Built Environment Forum Scotland. It will bring together organisations “that are considering the transition pathways, and collectively seeking sustainable future uses for places of worship within Scotland”. The forum is non-denominational and all faith groups are welcome. The main focus will be on historic places of worship which have cultural value but participation from modern places of worship with high community value is also encouraged. Information about membership criteria can be found here.

Charity Finance Investment Forum and Dinner
Civil Society will be holding a Charity Finance Investment Forum on 29-30 November 2021. It will provide a full programme of expert sessions on investment strategies for the charity sector. The forum is aimed at finance directors, chairs, trustees and chief executives of charities. Find details on how to attend here.

For more information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter please speak to your usual ACS contact or contact Sarah Tomlinson.