As the world responds to COVID-19, the breadth of the implications of the pandemic become clearer. Different organisations and industries all have to consider what is happening, and every situation comes with its own questions that need answered. The third sector is no exception – how does the coronavirus affect charities?

Authorities

The NHS and the Government continue to update their guidance regularly and this should be followed closely. For Scottish Charities additional good sources of information are OSCR and SCVO – with Third Force News posting regular updates through social media.

Action

Charities, like all other organisations should be proactive in responding to COVID-19. Are facilities available for people interacting with your group to wash their hands regularly? Are your employees able to work from home? Who in your organisation is taking a responsibility for decision-making on whether your events or services should continue? Many charities rely heavily on volunteers and may lack the resources to take these necessary precautions. If this is the case – you should seek external help and advice where appropriate.  What is the position with your supply chain?  What do your contracts say on force majeure events?

Admin

In all of the business of responding to the pandemic, some of the usual work of running a charitable organisation may be pushed to one side. Annual general meetings may be cancelled or postponed; annual reports and accounts may prove less urgent than protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, volunteers and beneficiaries; more serious issues could be caused by the economic effect of the virus.

OSCR have advised that they will not be extending their filing deadlines, but will seek to be understanding and proportionate where these deadlines are not met as a result of COVID-19. Charities should do what they can to stay on top of these responsibilities. This could involve AGMs being held online, putting systems in place to ensure work can be done at a distance and asking external bodies to help with tasks such as the preparation of an annual report if the administrative burden is too great.

The impact of COVID-19 may be a “notifiable event” for your charity. If there are likely to be long-term or significant consequences as a result of the situation, you should advise OSCR as soon as possible. This allows them to offer advice and help where available before situations become unmanageable. It also allows you to demonstrate that decisions by trustees have been made responsibly and with the interests of the charity as a priority.

Assistance

In many ways, this situation has brought out the best in people. Neighbours are checking up on each other, businesses are doing what they can to help and charities will naturally be leading the way in this. However, the overriding governing principle for charities is that they must act within their purposes (as set out in their governing document) and that charity trustees must act in the interests of the charity. OSCR have made clear that COVID-19 does not alter this.

Charity trustees may want to consider whether they should be looking to temporarily or permanently change their purposes and amend their governing documents in order to be able to serve the people around them at this time. If you are in this position, you should make sure that the regulatory requirements are not an afterthought. The sooner these are addressed, the sooner you will be able to help in whatever you way you can.  As always, we are here to help and please feel free to contact our Third Sector Team for further advice and guidance.