Following the relaxation of social distancing, business activity in the UK has shown some small signs of awakening. To help our charity clients look to the future, we summarise key guidance and updates over the last week.

Cabinet Office guidance on contractual behaviour

The Cabinet Office has published Guidance on responsible contractual behaviour in the performance and enforcement of contracts impacted by the Covid-19 emergency.

While the Guidance is non-binding, the Government has strongly encouraged all individuals, businesses and public authorities to act responsibly and fairly in the national interest in performing and enforcing their contracts, to support the response to Covid-19 and to protect jobs and the economy.

This guidance is intended to assist businesses such as charities during trading and service delivery, as contractual parties are encouraged to take a fair and responsible approach when resolving disputes, for example when performance or payment is delayed.

Please find details of the guidance here

Prayer and faith in lockdown

According to the Guardian, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown started, and one in 20 have started praying during the crisis. For example, the Church of England has said a high number of people have tuned into online or broadcast services, and 6,000 people phoned a prayer hotline in its first 48 hours of operation. Other faiths have also reported rises in using online facilities to continue practising religious activities.

For many of our faith-based charity clients, this presents a positive and secure environment for them fulfil their objects, continue to reach out to people in the community and enable people to “meet” together to deepen their faith – at a safe distance!

Can’t hold your AGM?

For anyone who is currently restrained by their Rules, Articles or constitution from holding their General Meeting or have held such in breach of their governing documents hoping for minimal reprisals, help is on the way!

The Government last week (20 May), presented a (Corporate Governance and Insolvency) Bill to put in place a series of measures to help; including allowing organisations including companies, Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs) and Registered Societies, to hold General Meetings (GM), including Annual General Meetings (AGM) even where the governing documents do not permit such to be held virtually and in some cases, explicitly require a minimum number of Members/Shareholders to be physically present.

Our ebriefing contains more information.

Reopening of places of worship

Five new ministerial taskforces have been set up to develop plans for how and when closed sectors can reopen safely in England:

  • Pubs and restaurants (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
  • Non-essential retail (including salons) (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
  • Recreation and leisure, including tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport (DCMS)
  • Places of worship (Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government)
  • International aviation (Department for Transport)

Each task force will engage with key stakeholders in public health, industry, trade unions, and devolved administrations to ensure the development of secure Covid-19 guidelines. The Places of Worship Taskforce has currently set out guidelines, effective from 13 May 2020, regarding places of worship, burial sites, funeral procedures and essential pastoral/community services.

Operation of Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme

Charity shops across the country are struggling with income among the Covid-19 outbreak. In particular, concerns have been raised concerning the potential loss of cash donations via the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme. Donors previously making small weekly donations have asked whether they could “save up” individual donations and make the total donation over the standard £30 limit once lockdown ends.

HMRC officials have now responded: “eligibility for donations for inclusion in this scheme is clear in stating that claims can only be made on cash donations of £30 or less; and contactless card donations of £30 or less collected on or after 6 April 2019. The decision over what constitutes an eligible donation is one for the church/charity to make for themselves, rather than for HMRC, but the conditions for something to be considered a ‘small donation’ are clearly set out in legislation. Where it is the case, for example, of separate donations being given in a single envelope, then if the church/charity official is happy these are clearly separate ‘small donations’ (and clearly stated as such) then they will be eligible for GASDS, as is the case where separate envelopes are used”.

This is a welcome development allowing charities to think about any practical steps they can introduce and how to communicate this to regular donors.

Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay

Launching on 26 May, the Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will enable employers with fewer than 250 employees to claim coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Tax agents will also be able to make claims on behalf of employers.

Employees are eligible to use the scheme if they:

  • are claiming for an employee who’s eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus
  • have fewer than 250 employees across PAYE payroll scheme has been operational since 28 February 2020
  • are eligible to receive State Aid under the EU Commission Temporary Framework.

The repayment will cover up to two weeks of the applicable rate of SSP, and is payable if a current or former employee was unable to work on or after 13 March 2020 and entitled to SSP, because they either have coronavirus, are self-isolating or shielded. To prepare to make a claim, employers should keep records of all the SSP payments claimed.

There is more information about eligibility and how employers can prepare to use the scheme on the Government's website

Charity Commission plea to MPs for additional resources

Baroness Stowell (chair of the Charity Commission) has sent written answers to questions raised by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee for its inquiry into the work of the Charity Commission.

The response highlighted that the Commission was allocated an additional £5m to its budget from April 2018, which allowed it to recruit 85 new staff. However, the Commission emphasised the need for further funding in light of its increasing caseload.

The Commission is seeking additional resources as it faces growing demand for its services. Between January 2019 and the end of March this year, the Commission decided 9,391 applications to register charities, an increase of 25%. The DCMS Committee also sought clarification from the Commission concerning ending excepted status for religious charities and the potential impact on its caseload.

Coronavirus Act 2020 Status table published

This month, the Department of Health and Social Care published a Coronavirus Act 2020: status table. The table lists the provisions of Part 1 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (CVA 2020) (sections 1-84) and any related Schedules, setting out whether each section is in force, and whether it has been suspended or re-enacted under Part 2 of the CVA 2020.

Section 97 of the CVA 2020 requires the Government to publish a report on the status of the provisions of Part 1 every two months. The first such report is due to be presented to Parliament on or before 31 May 2020.

Further information

If you would like more details about anything in this newsletter, please contact Sarah Tomlinson, your usual ACS contact or visit our contact us page.

Sarah is an Associate in the Charities and Social Business team, with over 15 years’ experience and specialises in charity governance, regulatory issues and mergers. Out of the office (and when not in lockdown) Sarah enjoys going to the theatre, is a school governor and does a lot of running around after her four children!