Guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for the charity sector

Guidance to help with running your charity during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Applies to England and Wales

This guidance will be reviewed in January 2022

As remaining restrictions are gradually eased in England and Wales, we want to assure charities that during this period we will continue to act proportionately in the public interest, whilst helping trustees to think about the wider or longer impact of their decisions on their charity.

Government financial support for charities

The UK government announced a range of funds available to charities. Find out more about what funding is available to charities: Government financial support for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations

COVID-19 restrictions

England

From 19 July the government has removed restrictions on the number of people who can gather indoors and outdoors in England but has provided guidance on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of Coronavirus, including rules on self-isolation.

Wales

From 7 August the government has removed restrictions on the number of people who can gather indoors and outdoors in Wales but has provided guidance on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of Coronavirus, including rules on self-isolation.

Meetings

It should now be possible for charities to gradually move back to face-to-face meetings and hold any outstanding AGMs or other meetings. However, coronavirus continues to have an impact on charity events and trustees may still need to consider how and if they can hold meetings.

Holding meetings online or by telephone

Trustees should check if their charity’s governing document allows them to hold meetings online, by telephone or on a hybrid basis (with some people meeting face to face and others joining virtually).

If your governing document does not allow online telephone or hybrid meetings you should consider if you can use any power (usually in your governing document) to amend the rules to allow these types of meetings. You should update the governing document and approve any previous decisions as soon as possible.

See further, more detailed, guidance on alterations to governing documents for unincorporated charities and charitable companies and governing document guidance for CIOs.

If this is not possible see the section below on what to do if you can’t make changes to the charity’s rules on meetings.

The Chartered Governance Institute has produced guidance for companies on good practice for virtual board and committee meetings. Charities which are not companies may also find this guidance useful as similar principles apply.

Postponing or cancelling AGMs or other meetings

For some charities trustees may consider that holding a virtual or hybrid AGM or other required meeting is not a viable solution. It may also not be possible for them to move immediately back to face-to-face meetings. In these circumstances trustees may consider they have no choice but to cancel or postpone.

If you do consider such a decision is necessary, you should follow any rules in your charity’s governing document that allow for postponement or cancellation.

If your governing document does not allow you to postpone or cancel meetings you should use any power (usually in your governing document) to amend the rules to ensure you can hold meetings in a valid format. You should update the governing document and approve any previous decisions as soon as possible.

See further, more detailed, guidance on alterations to governing documents for unincorporated charities and charitable companies and governing document guidance for CIOs.

If this is not possible see the section on what to do if you can’t make changes to the charity’s rules on meetings.

What to do if you can’t make changes to your charity’s rules on meetings

Trustees should regularly consider the wider risks and implications of holding meetings remotely or postponing or cancelling meetings if this is not allowed by the charity’s rules.

If trustees plan to do something that is not in accordance with the rules in the charity’s governing document, we may be able to give advice or authorise the trustees’ actions. You should contact us about your plans as soon as you reasonably can.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have generally been understanding and taken a proportionate approach if trustees have decided to hold meetings on a remote or hybrid basis or postpone or cancel a required meeting where:

  • there are no rules allowing this in your governing document
  • the circumstances meant the trustees could not reasonably make prior changes to the governing document to allow this
  • the trustees can show that they have considered all relevant factors and possible alternatives (such as, if postponing or cancelling, holding the meeting on a remote or hybrid basis)
  • the trustees follow all the other rules on meeting governance

We will continue to take this approach in the short term as restrictions are lifted, provided that trustees can show their decision is in the best interests of the charity having taken all the circumstances into account. However, others affected by those decisions may take a different approach, so you should take advice and fully understand the implications of any decisions you make.

It is important for the good governance of your charity that you record your decision and the reasons for it. You should be able to explain your decision making if you are asked about it in the future.

Insolvency help for charitable companies and charitable incorporated organisations

Provisions were introduced by the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 to help businesses continue operating and avoid insolvency during this period of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. These provisions apply to charitable companies, and the majority of the provisions also apply to Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs).

Some of these provisions have now come to an end but the provisions still in force cover:

  • moratoriums, offering companies and CIOs breathing space from debt enforcement action so they have the chance to explore options for rescue or restructure. This is a permanent change. The additional temporary moratorium provisions for coronavirus have come to an end.
  • temporary restrictions on winding up petitions, where a company or CIO cannot pay its bills due to the coronavirus emergency. These provisions apply until 31 March 2022.
  • support for viable companies struggling with debt to restructure under a new procedure (these provisions do not apply to CIOs). This is a permanent change.

Mergers and collaborative working

We know that the pressures of the pandemic may mean that charities need to reassess how they operate to avoid reducing services or closing down. In some cases this may be through collaborating or merging with one or more other charities. In some circumstances, mergers, or other forms of collaborative working, may make better use of charitable funds and property and provide better services for your beneficiaries.

The Commission has guidance and a checklist on mergers and collaborative working.

Charities in search of partners for collaboration or merger can use our register of charities to find potential partners.

You can search the register of charities by:

  • name, objects or activities
  • income
  • where they operate
  • who they help
  • how they operate

Advice on managing financial difficulties

We understand that many charities are currently very concerned about their financial position. Trustees should consider what their short, medium and long term priorities are, and see if they need to amend their financial planning given their current situation. Trustees are encouraged in particular to think about whether or not certain projects, spends or activities can be stopped or delayed in order to focus on essential spending if they are facing financial challenges at this time.

We have detailed guidance on financial resilience, on charity reserves and a general tool to help trustees work out what to focus on.

We have provided further advice for trustees of charities, especially smaller ones, facing financial difficulties because of the coronavirus pandemic:

Manage financial difficulties in your charity caused by coronavirus.

Reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission

We appreciate that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic the charity sector is facing extremely demanding and changing challenges. Charities’ primary interest must be looking after the beneficiaries they serve. It is important that trustees continue to consider matters that may need to be reported as a serious incident.

See guidance on reporting a serious incident during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trading subsidiaries – financial support from parent charities

In normal times a non-charitable trading subsidiary can be a source of vital income for the charity that owns it. We know that for many subsidiaries this income is being seriously impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Where the subsidiary is at risk of no longer being financially viable, charity trustees may need to decide if their charity can justify temporarily supporting the subsidiary to help it through these difficulties.

When making this decision as a trustee, you have a duty to put the interests of your charity first and consider whether financial support can be justified as an investment.

Our guidance, Trustees, Trading and Tax (CC35) provides advice on your duties to help you make this decision.

Working with a company or business to help with coronavirus

Charities can work with non-charitable companies or businesses in a number of ways.

For example, you could:

  • provide a service or run a project together
  • have staff seconded or volunteering for your organisation
  • enter into a commercial partnership to raise funds (for example, a company donates a percentage of sales and uses your charity’s name on their promotional material)

You should:

  • make sure that linking with a business for this purpose is in your charity’s best interests and that your trustees support it
  • ensure that any activities you carry out fit with your charity’s purposes
  • identify, address, and review risks as well as benefits
  • consider any conflicts of interest or risks to your charity’s reputation

Any charity can enter into a commercial partnership to raise money but they must follow specific rules. Guidance on working with companies and professional fundraisers.

Fundraising Regulator guidance: Professional fundraisers, commercial participators and partners.

Information from other organisations

Other organisations also have resources that may help charities during the pandemic.

Association of Chairs

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

Small Charities Coalition

Welsh Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)

Local charities in England can get support throughout this crisis from their local sector support and development organisation. Search the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) member tool to find support near you.

Published 7 April 2020
Last updated 21 October 2021 + show all updates
  1. Section on 'Annual return and accounts' removed to reflect the return to normal filing requirements. Also updates made to the section 'Insolvency help for charitable companies and charitable incorporated organisations'.

  2. Updated the ‘COVID-19 restrictions’ section after Wales moved to alert level 0 on 7 August.

  3. We’ve updated our Covid-19 guidance for trustees. This includes advice for trustees on holding meetings remotely or postponing or cancelling meetings to reflect the lifting of restrictions in England and Wales.

  4. Updated the ‘AGMs and other meetings: postponing or cancelling meetings’ section to set out our new approach to annual return filing extensions. We’ve also updated content on charity meetings and insolvency help for charitable companies and charitable incorporated organisations.

  5. Changes made to the section - AGMs and other meetings: postponing or cancelling meetings.

  6. Updated the 'charity meetings' section to include recent government guidance about lockdown restrictions in England and Wales.

  7. Added a new section about mergers and collaborative working.

  8. Updated the sections about meetings in England and holding AGMs and meetings online or by telephone - includes links to the new rules about meeting socially. Also updated the bulleted list in the section 'Insolvency help for charitable companies and charitable incorporated organisations'.

  9. We have updated the 'charity meetings' section with the new rules from government.

  10. Updated the sections about AGMs and holding meetings online. The section in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 on holding meetings online has been extended from 30 September to 30 December 2020. The temporary provision allowing the postponement of AGMs ends on 30 September 2020.

  11. Updated information for charitable companies and CIOs on new laws affecting members’ meetings and insolvency. These provisions are set out in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 and came into effect on 26 June.

  12. First published.