In line with government advice on the management of the Coronavirus outbreak, it has become necessary to make changes to the way the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland delivers its services. The changes are aimed at protecting the Commission’s service users and staff, while supporting charities in getting through what is a difficult and anxious time.
The Commission understands the charity sector will be facing a number of challenges during the pandemic, including looking after its staff, volunteers and trustees as well as playing a vital role in looking after beneficiaries, many of whom will be amongst the most vulnerable during this public health emergency.
We want to assure charities that our approach to regulation during this period will be as flexible and supportive as possible. Charities’ primary interest, and ours, must be looking after the public and the communities that we serve.
You can find guidance on running your charity during the pandemic, and the main changes being implemented by the Commission, below.
Registration will continue as normal, however, there may be delays in responding to your correspondence, or making a final decision on your application.
Where applicants require more time to submit further information to support an application which has already been submitted the Commission will also treat these requests pragmatically.
How do I get support to pay my charity staff?
The government has announced that organisations, including charities, will get support to help them pay wages. Employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of their workforce who remain on payroll but are temporarily not working during the coronavirus outbreak. Any employer in the country - small or large, charitable or non-profit - will be eligible for the scheme.
Advice regarding charity meetings
This advice covers both general meetings and meetings of charity trustees. Some charities will have meetings planned, or required through the conditions of their governing document, over the coming weeks that will either have to be postponed or to be held virtually rather than in person. Where meetings are postponed, it is recommended that a note is kept documenting the reason why the meeting has been postponed, but the Commission will be pragmatic and reasonable and will not take any regulatory action where meetings are postponed as a result of these circumstances. Where a meeting is held virtually to safeguard the health of trustees, this should be recorded in the minutes and the Commission will accept this as a valid meeting, as long as it is quorate.
Charity trustees who cannot hold an annual general meeting (AGM) in compliance with their Articles of Association must ensure that the decision is recorded by the charity. Any record of such decisions should record that the decision was taken in response to the current health advice, and that plans to hold the AGM will be implemented as soon as reasonably possible after government advice on holding meetings changes.
In keeping with the government’s current advice it will be very difficult for charities to hold face-to-face meetings. Some charities have clauses in their governing documents that allow them to meet virtually or to use telephone facilities. If your charity does not have this clause we would recommend that charity trustees check their governing document and see if they have the power to amendment their governing document to facilitate changes as to how or when meetings are held.
If your charity does not have the power to amend your governing document in this way or if your governing documents prohibits the charity to meet virtually and you decide to hold meetings over the phone or using digital solutions, you should record this decision and note that you have done this to demonstrate good governance of your charity and in keeping with the government’s advice. The Commission will accept decisions recorded in this way.
Responding to queries and requests
The Commission’s office is not open to the public and all events and non-essential appointments have been cancelled. Staff will still be working, either remotely or from the office, and will endeavour to respond to email queries and requests received as soon as possible. However, in light of expected staff absences over coming weeks, there may be a delay in responding to your query or request. We appreciate your patience and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
Serious incident reports
The Commission understands that many charities may be affected by the current COVID-19 situation. Should charity trustees decide they are temporarily closing their charity to manage this situation then there is no requirement to issue a serious incident report to the Commission. Charities should continue to issue serious incident reports for all other matters where appropriate.
The Charities SORP Making Body has issued guidance on practical accounting matters which you may find useful. This advice can be found here: www.charitysorp.org
ABC Community Network’s office is closed.
We will also publicise any community responses which are being coordinated by community groups. Please register any community services you are providing with ABC Council using the online form at: www.armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk/community-engagement/
Updated information will be posted on our website and social media.