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Charity Commission – compliance during Covid-19

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Recently the  team at the Charity Commission presented an online webinar answering a range of questions specifically for local infrastructure organisations and the charitable groups they work with. The session covered Covid-19 guidance, accounts, closures, AGMs and safeguarding.  The webinar is still available to watch online – links are at the end of this article. 

Advice themes 

Guidance and practice 

The Charity Commission recognises that, in these uncertain times, many boards of trustees have a lot of governance issues which may need clarification. A frequent issue is uncertainty of how meetings should be conducted at this time, given the structures of social distancing. Essentially, meetings may be held digitally – even by telephone if video-conferencing is not practical for everyone. Trustees need to be able to make judgment calls with confidence and understand how the legal and regulatory framework works. The message from the Charity Commission is that compliance is important where reasonably possible but, if problems arise, ask the Commission for guidance. CIOs and company AGMs, for example, can be held later than usual – but no later than 30th September 2020. It’s also worth noting that accounts, whilst needing trustees’ approval, do not have to be taken to the members for agreement.  

Merging charities 

Merger is an option being considered by some charities at this difficult time. It can be a positive and valuable solution however, a proactive response as a practical strategy and should not be seen as ‘the end of the road’.  It may well be in the interests of all parties. Points to consider are: 

  • Cost benefits 
  • Improvements to quality of service 
  • What is best for service users? 
  • Are the services compatible? 

 

The Charity Commission sees between 60 and 80 mergers annually in England and Wales though, realistically, many more are expected as a consequence of the pandemic. 

Safeguarding 

In 2018-19, the Commission dealt with 3,895 Serious Incident Reports. This increased to 5,730 in 2019-20, nearly 60 per-cent of which related to safeguarding. 

Whilst many trustees will be aware of what constitutes a safeguarding issues – service user and staff safety, damage to property, cyber-crime, theft, suspicious donation, data breach, for example – the Commission recommends reporting ‘near misses’ because all data received helps measure the extent and impact of the risk across the VCSE sector.  It’s actually very rare for the Commission to take action against a charity, nor do they disclose such matters to the media. 

The Commission's statement of support

The Charity Commission helpfully states on its website:  “We want to assure charities that our approach to regulation during this uncertain period will be as flexible and pragmatic as possible in the public interest, whilst helping trustees to be aware of and think about the wider or longer impact of their decisions on their charity.”   

The full webinar can be found here or an audio-only version here.

Much of the discussion is reflected in the present experience of much of Norfolk’s VCSE sector. CAN has conducted detailed research into the present and anticipated state of the sector and you can read more about that here.