Gift Aid reform 'kicked into the long grass'

Ministers want a 'cost-neutral' solution, says the NCVO's Stuart Etherington

The Government has kicked Gift Aid reform into the "longest of long grass", according to Stuart Etherington, chief executive of sector umbrella group the NCVO, after a meeting at the Treasury yesterday.

The meeting between sector representatives and Ian Pearson, economic secretary to the Treasury, was arranged after the release in December of research into the possible impact of Gift Aid reform on giving patterns among higher-rate taxpayers.

But Etherington told Third Sector that the talks had made no significant progress. "I didn't expect much and I wasn't disappointed," he said. "Reform has been kicked into the longest of long grass. There will certainly be nothing before the election."

He said that Pearson had also made it clear that any proposed reforms would have to be ‘cost-neutral'. "But if you are trying to improve the take-up of Gift Aid, it can't be cost-neutral," Etherington said. "It is an unsquareable circle."

Etherington said there had been some useful discussion about how to streamline the current Gift Aid system, but little sense of the timescale and purpose of the sector-wide forum that the Treasury has convened for next Monday.

The forum, which is expected to meet every two months, will include representatives from arts and heritage charities, which tend to have a large proportion of high net worth donors.

"The Treasury doesn't want any part of the sector to be disadvantaged by any changes, but there are bound to be winners and losers, especially if it has to be cost-neutral," said Etherington.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, made a point of not attending the meeting. He said in a blog post yesterday: "There are generally two types of meetings in government. One, the ‘let's sort it out' meeting. The other, the ‘we're too polite to say get lost' meeting. The meeting today probably falls into the latter category."

Ralph Michell, head of policy at the chief executives body, attended the meeting. He said Pearson had agreed to draw up a timetable for talks about Gift Aid reform, but he warned that Acevo wanted to see definite progress.  

"We were all agreed that the timetable was the crucial thing, so it was good that Ian Pearson agreed to give us one - that is a definite step forward," he said.

"When we have the timetable, we will then be in a position to gauge whether the Treasury is really serious about this and whether we therefore continue to engage with them on it."

A Treasury spokeswoman said Pearson had acknowledged the case for Gift Aid reform, but had emphasised that there would be no easy solutions.

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