Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Charities – Frequently Asked Questions
The Charities Regulator is currently open and working on ways to continue our regulatory work and provide supports to Irish charities. However, we are operating with fewer resources and therefore it will take longer than usual for us to answer queries and process applications. The coronavirus (COVID-19) is a constantly changing situation and we are monitoring advice from the HSE and the Department of Health, as well as liaising with our Government Department and other stakeholders to ensure that we can respond to developments as they arise.
It is essential that all charities follow HSE guidance on public health and ensure that measures such as good hand hygiene, social distancing and coughing etiquette are adhered to at all times. Up-to-date HSE guidance can be found here.
The Regulator appreciates the added pressures on many charities at this time. Based on our contacts with charities to date, we are aware of some particular concerns and our responses to these are set out in the FAQs below, which will be kept under review and revised and extended as necessary.
Should my charity’s board of trustees continue to meet?
It is essential that all charities follow HSE guidance on public health and ensure that measures such as good hand hygiene, social distancing and coughing etiquette are adhered to at all times. Up-to-date HSE guidance can be found here. Consider conference calls or video/Skype calls with fellow trustees to discuss issues of importance to your charity and to enable key decisions to be made. Some charities will have particular rules around meetings so your charity’s governing document should be checked. Where your governing document is silent on the holding of virtual meetings, we do not believe this should be an issue given the current situation and public health considerations. However, in accordance with principles of good governance, where trustees decide to meet virtually then it is important that this is recorded and that any decisions that are taken are also recorded.
If your board of trustees decides to amend the rules relating to the holding of meetings as set out your charity’s governing document in order to provide for virtual meetings, there is no need to seek the prior consent of the Charities Regulator to this change. However, a copy of your charity’s amended constitution should be submitted to the Charities Regulator as soon as possible. If your charity is a company, you will need to comply with company law rules relating to any amendments to your charity’s governing document, also known as its constitution. Guidance on the alteration of company constitutions can be found on the Companies Registration Office website, www.cro.ie. Charity trustees should also seek professional advice if required.
Boardmatch Ireland, which is a registered charity, has published some useful guides to assist charities that may be unfamiliar with holding virtual meetings. These guides can be found at the following link: https://bit.ly/2JzLpZf.
Please note: if you propose to make amendments to the governing document, other than a change to the rules regarding meetings, please seek advice as some amendments require the prior consent of the Charities Regulator.
How can my charity keep proper minutes if our trustee meetings are held over the phone?
Your minute-taking practice should not be affected by carrying out your meetings either over the phone or virtually. If you are using a phone simply ensure that the person who is nominated to keep minutes uses a speakerphone facility or hands-free device such as earphones in order to keep their hands free for writing. The minutes of your meetings can then be emailed to relevant parties as usual. You can click here to read our Guidance Note on Minute Taking.
We are due to file our annual report but staffing and other issues associated with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mean that we may not meet our deadline. Will we face sanctions if we are late filing our annual report?
In recognition of the continuing public health crisis and the difficulties faced by registered charities at this time, the Board of the Charities Regulator has exercised its power to specify an alternative period for the filing of annual reports under section 52 of the Charities Act 2009.
Annual reports which were due to be filed with the Charities Regulator on any date from 12th March 2020 to 30th October 2020 inclusive, may now be prepared and submitted to the Charities Regulator at any time up to 31st October 2020.
The Charities Regulator encourages any registered charity that is in a position to file its annual report to do so.
As a charity, we would like to assist with the national effort to deal with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Can we offer our services if this is not covered by our charitable purpose or main object?
While the Charities Regulator recognises the good intentions that may drive a charity to consider changing its focus to assist in the national effort, charities should be mindful of their own charitable purpose(s), the beneficiaries that are reliant on their activities and the donors and funders who have provided funds to target specific charitable endeavours. Adhering to principles of good governance is even more important in a time of crisis, therefore charities contemplating changing or extending their charitable purpose should ensure that decisions of that nature are fully considered and agreed upon by their charity’s trustees in accordance with the charity’s governing document/constitution and regulatory requirements.
What should I do if my charity receives calls looking for advice about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is a dynamic one, we suggest that all health queries be referred to the HSE website www.hse.ie.
Our charity has been impacted by the inability of employees to attend work due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) illness or self-isolation. What should we do?
Where the ability of charities to provide services has been curtailed, a process should be put in place to identify services to users which are deemed to be essential. Contingency plans should be put in place to focus on the delivery of these essential services in the first instance, and assistance should be sought from other agencies where necessary. Employers have obligations to employees who are unable to attend work, and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has provided guidance on income support for employees which is available here.
What if my charity has to close for a while due to illness? Do we need to inform the Regulator?
There is no specific requirement to notify the Charities Regulator that your charity has closed due to illness. In line with good governance, procedures should be put in place to deal with the possibility of your charity not being in a position to provide essential services to service users for a period of time.
What can I do if I hear of other people taking advantage of the situation and collecting donations fraudulently?
As per usual practice, if you have evidence or reason to believe that a person or organisation may be seeking donations fraudulently, then you should contact An Garda Síochána or visit the Raise a Concern page on the Charities Regulator website. Our Compliance & Enforcement Unit will look in to the matter. You will find the Raise a Concern page here and you can view our Concerns Policy here.
We are in the process of registering as a charity. Will Coronavirus (COVID-19) impact on our applications?
Our registration team will continue to process applications for charitable status. Due to some reductions in staffing and resources we may take longer to respond to your queries. We also anticipate it may take longer to reach decisions on applications. Applicants who are not in a position to respond to our queries within the normal 21-days limit should request an extension of time by contacting our team.
I would like to make a donation or volunteer to help out during the crisis. What should I do?
The Charities Regulator would always advise that you check the Register of Charities at www.charitiesregulator.ie to ensure that a charity is registered before making any donation or deciding to volunteer your time. The quickest way to assist in the present crisis is to raise funds or contribute in some other way to an existing registered charity that is already working in the area that you are interested in supporting. Setting up a new organisation from scratch in response to the crisis will take some time, whereas charities who are already registered have established organisational structures in place that are ready to go, and they are familiar with fundraising and other regulatory requirements. They are therefore better equipped to ensure that your contribution, whatever that may be, will have the greatest and most immediate impact.
In line with the Department of Rural and Community Development Action Plan, if you are interested in volunteering you can register with your local Volunteer Centre. A list of Volunteer Centres and Volunteer Information Services is available on the Volunteer Ireland website www.volunteer.ie. Volunteer Ireland is the national volunteer development organisation and a support body for the nationwide network of Volunteer Centres and Volunteer Information Services.
Do funds raised through online fundraising platforms go to charities?
Online fundraising platforms are used to raise funds for many different kinds of causes including charitable ones. Not all online fundraising initiatives relate to charities nor do they have to. However, if it is your intention to give to a charitable organisation, the Charities Regulator would always advise that you check the Register of Charities at www.charitiesregulator.ie to ensure that the relevant online fundraising initiative that you are interested in donating to relates to fundraising by or for a registered charity.
We are worried about our cashflow and our ability to pay bills as they fall due. Where can we find information on available supports that might assist us?
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has a dedicated webpage on its website providing guidance on supports for SMEs and links to other available resources for businesses, which charities may find useful. We would encourage charity trustees to keep informed by visiting the Department’s dedicated webpage at the following link: https://bit.ly/39C7Wzk.
Our charity cannot hold our Annual General Meeting as required by company law due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. Is any guidance available?
Many charitable organisations are companies and must adhere to company law in addition to the requirements of the Charities Act 2009. Under Section 175 of the Companies Act 2014, companies are required to hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) every calendar year and not more than 15 months should elapse between one AGM and the next, but this may not be possible due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Consideration should be given to the possibility of holding a virtual AGM if that is permitted by the charity’s governing document.
If it is not possible to have a virtual AGM, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) have published guidance as part of their FAQ’s, indicating that where genuine efforts to comply with the Companies Act 2014 have been made, and that the steps taken have been appropriately recorded and can be evidenced, the ODCE will have regard to such efforts in determining whether any appropriate enforcement action is taken.
We are an animal welfare charity and we have to cut back our services due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. What should we do?
The Charities Regulator is aware that some animal welfare charities may be experiencing difficulties in providing an appropriate level of care to animals in their charge due to staffing restrictions or financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Any charity struggling to look after animals in their care should contact the Department of Agriculture and seek advice and assistance as appropriate. Contact details for the Department of Agriculture are available online or at the following link https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/contact/
Can a charity apply for the Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme?
The Scheme is available to employers from all sectors, including charities, whose business activities are being adversely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Scheme is being administered by the Revenue Commissioners, and the names of all employers who register for the scheme will be published.
Detailed guidance, including some FAQ’s specifically aimed at the community and voluntary sector is available at https://www.revenue.ie/en/employing-people/documents/pmod-topics/guidance-on-operation-of-twss.pdf
Eligibility for the scheme is based on self-assessment principles - a qualifying employer self declares that they have been significantly impacted by the crisis. Key indicators are that the employer’s turnover is likely to decrease by 25% for quarter 2, 2020, and that the business is unable to meet normal wages.
Revenue’s Guidance on Employer Eligibility and Supporting Proofs is available at www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/communications/documents/guidance-on-employer-eligibility-and-supporting-proofs.pdf .
This guidance also addresses the use of reserves to fund wage payments. The guidance states that “An employer that has been hit by a significant decline in business but has strong cash reserves, that are not required to fund debt, will still qualify for the Scheme but the Government would expect the employer to continue to pay a significant proportion of the employees’ wages”.
Some charities may have restricted reserves which can only be used for a particular and defined purpose. These reserves may not be available to pay other costs such as wages, and therefore careful consideration should be undertaken before any application is made to the Scheme.
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