As schools close until further notice, many of our members have been in touch to ask what they should do if their AGM is due to take place in the coming weeks and months. Jenny Stewart, Head of Charity Services at the Charity Commission (England and Wales) has this advice:
Understandably, charities are concerned about what to do during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, so we have set out our response to the most commonly asked questions.
We want to assure charities that our approach to regulation during this uncertain period will be as flexible and pragmatic as possible in the wider public interest, whilst helping trustees to be aware of and think about the wider or longer impact of their decisions on their charity.
Can I cancel or postpone my charity’s AGM or other key meetings?
Coronavirus is having a major impact on charity events and the Government’s health advice may lead to some charities having no choice but to decide to cancel or postpone their AGMs and other critical meetings. If as trustees, you decide it is necessary to do so, you should record this decision to demonstrate good governance of your charity. This is particularly important if it is not possible to hold your AGM which may will make it difficult for you to finalise your annual reports and accounts.
Wherever possible, we would ask you to try to get your Annual Reports to us on time. However, where the situation impacts on the completion of annual returns and accounts, charities with an imminent filing date can call 0300 066 9197 (Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm) to request an extension.
Can I use video, teleconferencing and the internet in place of face-to-face meetings?
In the current situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult 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, so we advise trustees to check their governing document and see if they can make amendments themselves to facilitate changes as to how or when meetings are held. Where there is no such clause in your governing document* and you decide to hold meetings over the phone or using digital solutions, we will understand but you should record this decision and that you have done this to demonstrate good governance of your charity.
*The Parentkind constitution does not include a clause for video, teleconferencing or online meetings so please follow this advice.
What do I need to report to the Charity Commission?
We appreciate that during the coronavirus pandemic the charity sector will face extremely demanding and ever-changing challenges. Charities’ primary interest, and ours, must be looking after the public and the communities that we serve. It is ultimately the responsibility of the charity trustees to continue to report serious incidents using our current guidelines, and we will continue to ask trustees to use their judgement in deciding whether an incident is significant in the context of their charity and should be reported to us. We will continue to prioritise those incidents that place individuals at risk, or incidents that have had a significant impact on a charity’s operations and therefore serious harm to the charity’s work.
Information from the Charity Commission Northern Ireland
The Commission has published guidance for registered charities during this time. It is available on the Commission’s website at: News/covid-19-coronavirus-information/. The guidance aims to assure charities that our approach to regulation during this period will be as flexible and supportive as possible. It addresses meetings, annual reporting, registration and responding to queries and requests.
The Charities Commission is reviewing its procedures after a court ruled that its registration process was unlawful. The Court of Appeal decision applies to some 6,000 charities registered prior to May 2019 which includes many PTAs. The Department for Communities has given reassurance that the Minister will shortly determine how the department intends to respond to the issues raised by the judgment and also can give an assurance to those charities that were unlawfully registered that they remain charities in law and need do nothing differently in the interim.
For more information and the answers to some questions that this news might raise for you, can be found here.