The Government first announced plans for a shared ownership right to buy in October 2019. At the time the sector raised concerns about the impact the plans would have on housing associations ability to borrow. An election and a pandemic later the Government announced, during the CIH Housing Festival last week, the return of the right to shared ownership as part of its Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline in the UK, the nation’s attention is being increasingly focused on how we can recover and reform.
Research carried out by the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has found local volunteer groups were a crucial part of the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They provided much-needed support to people who were vulnerable and shielding. The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action has also recorded that over 250,000 people have registered at charity volunteer centres since the beginning of the pandemic, whilst more than 750,000 people signed up to the NHS volunteering scheme.
One of the reasons for these successes is that many working-age people were forced to adapt to new working arrangements, which gave them “more time to be better neighbours”. For many charities, the extra capacity in this age group has proved vital, especially as shielding and vulnerable volunteers have needed to take a step back from their volunteer work. This recent renewed trust in charities has been encouraging and may help give the sector a stronger voice to speak up for change.
Catch up with all the latest charity updates in this week’s news round-up.
High court finds charity recruitment policy discriminatory
In a recent High Court case, an independent fostering agency, Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service, brought a judicial review into Ofsted’s unpublished report of its services, claiming the regulator had acted unlawfully in including within its report findings and requirements details concerning Cornerstone’s alleged breaches of equality and human rights laws.
Cornerstone was founded on evangelical Christian principles and its recruitment policy required Cornerstone’s carers to be evangelical Christians who refrain from “homosexual behaviour”. Ofsted found that this policy violated the Equality Act and European Convention on Human Rights and consequently required that Cornerstone amend the policy.
The High Court held that Ofsted had acted lawfully. As a charity, Cornerstone was objectively justified in requiring applicants to hold the same faith, but the recruitment policy had the effect of excluding potential gay and lesbian carers based on their sexual orientation. As such, this was both directly and indirectly discriminatory, as well as neither justified nor proportionate to Cornerstone’s aims.
For more information and advice on this, please contact a member of our employment team.
Government reduces VAT for hospitality
From 15 July, a reduced rate of VAT (5%) has been applied to supplies of food and non-alcoholic drinks from cafes, restaurants and other hospitality premises. Many charities run cafes and restaurants, provide holiday accommodation and manage attractions. For some charities, the temporary VAT reduction may be a welcome change. However, where the fees charities charge for admission to their venues are already exempt from VAT, the exemption will take precedence over the reduced rate for those supplies. HMRC’s guidance note is available to read here.
Charities begin to reopen
Whilst it is easy to talk speculatively about how the charities sector can rebuild and shape the recovery from the pandemic, the first step is for charities to reopen and resume their operations. The rules and restrictions often change quickly and now they are even beginning to be localised. This means that charity leaders should always check the most recent guidelines. The Government has also created a tool which gives organisations bespoke guidance on reopening.
To comply with their health and safety obligations, charities must carry out thorough risk assessments and make sure that their premises are Covid-secure. Charities may wish to consider implementing measures such as the introduction of screens and barriers, encouraging contactless payments and ensuring that staff know how to respond if someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19. Vulnerable and shielding individuals should also be given particular thought, as these people often make up a significant number of charity volunteers.
Digital revolution in the charities sector
A report published last week has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for a digital evolution in the charities sector. Charities have needed to “embrace digital with the aim of staring relevant, helping more people, developing new ways of working, fundraising and delivering service offerings”. Before the pandemic, 30% of charities felt that a lack of understanding for digital was one of their biggest problems. Post COVID-19 (defined as 20 March 2020 onwards), this figure had decreased to 15% of respondents. However, 66% of the charities surveyed rated their board’s digital skills as either low or having room for improvement.
Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society, commented that the boosting skills and capacity will be “central in bolstering the resilience of the sector through recovery as civil society continues to play a vital role in helping tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
For more information
From next week, our newsletter will be published fortnightly instead of weekly.
Catherine is a solicitor in the charities and social business team and specialises in charity governance (particularly faith-based charities), incorporations, mergers and regulatory issues. ‘Out of the office’ during lockdown, Catherine has enjoyed the many available online theatre and musical productions, joined a virtual choir and (to her surprise) become a little more green-fingered!
Two final pieces of the possession jigsaw have been published on 15 September 2020. Mr Justice Knowles’ working group on possession proceedings has issued its guidance on the “overall arrangements” for possession proceedings.
One change proposed by the Building Safety Bill is the introduction of a duty holder regime, which will see statutory responsibility for the safety of higher risk buildings placed on key individuals
Throughout this pandemic, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been publishing various “Statements on Coronavirus” (Statements) which provide guidance on consumer rights during this time.
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.
Sometimes half an hour at a conference gives you the reality that has been staring you in the face all along. That was my experience watching “Change is on the Horizon”
Following our recent e-briefing on Possession Notices, Helen Tucker and Emilie Pownall from our housing litigation team discuss the impact of the changes on social landlords.
Not only has the possession stay been extended until 20 September, the notice periods to be given to tenants has been extended in certain circumstances with some important exceptions.
The Court has confirmed that a party cannot withhold its consent in order to re-write the original bargain.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, building safety continues to be a key concern for social housing providers and their residents.
To receive invitations to our events, as well as information and articles on legal issues and sector developments that are of interest to you, please sign up to Newsroom.