Whilst many of us are welcoming the recent changes to lockdown, many charities are finding the easing of lockdown more difficult to manage than going into it! The rules are changing quickly, often with little warning, and at different speeds and scales across the country. This makes planning for the future difficult, with many charities facing losses to trading income, some being unable to operate under social distancing regulations and others struggling to overcome digital barriers in an increasingly online society. According to research carried out by Pro Bono Economics, small charities and those working with BAME communities are particularly feeling the pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The real kicker, of course, is that charities are facing these challenges at a time when there is hugely increased demand for their services. At Anthony Collins Solicitors, we want to enable our charity clients to continue to further their social purposes and see them flourish – now more than ever. If your charity needs advice or more information about charity governance during the pandemic, please get in touch with a member of our team.

Catch up with all the latest charity updates in this week’s news roundup.

New government guidance on reopening places of worship

Following its announcement that places of worship can open for individual worship, the Government has now published guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic. The guidance re-emphasises the importance of protecting people who are clinically vulnerable and urges individuals who are shielding to follow Government advice for those in this category. Anyone, including religious leaders, staff and volunteers, who displays symptoms of Covid-19 should stay at home and self-isolate.

For those who can travel to a place of worship, the guidance is clear that collective communal prayer is not permitted; this includes a Minister of Religion or lay person leading prayer. Instead, an individual and their household must pray alone and should be socially distanced from others. Items such as books, service sheets and prayer mats should be removed, and individuals should be prevented from touching any objects that are handled communally – for example, by putting up signage or barriers. The guidance also advises the avoidance of singing and playing musical instruments, though it does make an exception for organists, who can use religious buildings for practice. For more information, to read our Regulatory e-briefing, Churches - Time to open the doors safely?

For churches experiencing difficulties in maintaining their buildings, a second emergency grant fund has been announced by Historic England. The Covid-19 Emergency Heritage at Risk Response Fund will help to fund urgent maintenance, repairs and surveys at historic buildings and sites. Please note that the closing date for applications is 28 June 2020.

Furloughing latest

According to Government figures sent to MPs, 164,000 charity staff had been furloughed as of 3 May 2020. The estimate was included in a report published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier this month, which discussed the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on charities. Over the last three months, we have seen charities of all sizes using the scheme to save essential resources.

On Friday 12 June, the Government published new guidance on new flexible furlough arrangements that will be available to use by employers from July. There are three key guidance notes, available to read via the following links:

  1. Check if you can claim for your employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
  2. Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme; and
  3. Claim for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Key developments include employers’ ability to furlough employees “for any amount of time and any shift pattern” from 1 July. Employers will need to pay employees for the hours worked but any non-working hours can be reclaimed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. There is, however, no requirement for employers to flexibly furlough: employees can still be fully furloughed in July if needed.

For more information, click here to read our Employment e-briefing.

High Court decision on duties of CIO members

In a recent case, the High Court confirmed that the duty of a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) member to exercise his or her powers in good faith in furtherance of the CIO’s purpose(s) is subjective – meaning that what matters most is the member’s state of mind. The case involved a disagreement between two groups of members as to which individuals should be elected to the CIO’s Clergy Council as defined in the CIO’s constitution. The losing group argued that there had been no justifiable reason for the winning group to vote as they did.

The High Court refused to hold the election invalid and could not say that the individuals in either group did not, in good faith, believe that their votes were most likely to further the purpose of the CIO. The judge, however, did encourage the chair to remind members that they had a duty to exercise independent judgment and vote in the way that they, in good faith, consider the interests of the CIO would be best furthered.

For more information on the duties of members and trustees, please speak to your usual ACS contact or contact a member of team.

Public confidence in charities increases

Last month, we reported that public trust in charities was increasing after a slump in previous years. This week we were pleased to see further evidence of this rise in recent Charity Commission research. The Commission reported that overall trust in charities has increased to 6.2 out of 10 from 5.5 out of 10 the last time the research was undertaken. The survey was carried out in February – just before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were really starting to be felt in the UK.

There was, however, a decline in the perceived importance of charities to society. 55% of those surveyed said that charities play an “essential” or “very important” role in society, as opposed to 76% in 2012. Given the timing of the survey, this figure may well have changed in reality since then, as increasing numbers of people turn to services offered by charities during the pandemic.

More engaging with churches during lockdown

In a similar vein, a recent report carried out by Evangelical Alliance found that 59% of nearly 900 surveyed churches in the UK have noted a significant increase in the number of people interested in exploring the Christian faith. Church leaders have also noticed an increase in the numbers of people attending church, despite lockdown restrictions on services. In addition, an impressive 88% of churches are currently providing support for vulnerable people in society, with 72% working with local authorities or other churches and charities.

Further information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter, please speak to Sarah Patrice, email your usual Anthony Collins Solicitors contact or use our Contact Us form.

Sarah Patrice is a Senior Associate in the Charities and Social Business Team and specialises primarily in governance and commercial matters for third sector organisations, providing specialist governance, regulatory, contractual, charity, board and company secretarial support, to a broad range of organisations nationally. ‘Out of the office’ during lockdown, Sarah enjoys discovering the areas around her home some of which she has been previously unaware and often to diffuse the fallout after a family game of monopoly!