Government's emergency money could take weeks to arrive

Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised the sector £750m to tide it through the coronavirus lockdown, but it might take weeks for the process for applying to become operational

The Treasury (Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
The Treasury (Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

It could be weeks before money from the government’s promised support package for charities affected by the coronavirus crisis is available, Third Sector understands.

On 8 April, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a £750m package to help charities hit financially by the pandemic.

The move came after pressure from a number of charities and umbrella organisations, which joined forces to call for funding to be provided and named their campaign #EveryDayCounts to reflect the fact that hundreds of charities were facing closure within days if no support was provided. 

But Third Sector understands that, almost two weeks after the funding was announced, it could still be weeks before the process for applying for the money is operational. 

This applies to both the £360m allocated for direct government grants to charities providing essential services and supporting vulnerable people and the £370m to be distributed among smaller charities through the National Lottery Community Fund in England and the relevant bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Third Sector understands the £360m from government departments is expected to be money that is new to the sector, not funding that has been reallocated as a result of the virus.

This funding includes a one-off sum of £200m allocated for hospices, meaning that £160m remains to be distributed among other charities. 

According to a blog by Vicky Browning, chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, published after a conference call with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which is administering the grants, government departments were asked to tell the DCMS what services they wanted the voluntary sector to deliver in return for the funding by 17 April. 

Browning said there was no formalised bidding process to decide how much each department would be awarded, with a decision expected to be made this week.

Jay Kennedy director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, acknowledged there was “a potential tension between getting things out quickly and making sure it is fairly allocated”.

But he added: “Speed is of the essence: charities are already closing down and many are just days away from running out of cash. They don’t have ‘weeks’.”

He also warned that the £160m was “going to be spread quite thinly” and the £750m package was “already obviously not even close to being sufficient”.

Kennedy said funding needed to be accessible, uncomplicated, transparent and based on simple indicators.

Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at Acevo, said it was “disappointing that there continues to be a lack of urgency from the Treasury in getting charities the help they need to fully support the people they serve”. 

She added: “Now there is the possibility that what little money there is will take at least one month to reach the front line.”

Rita Chadha, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said her organisation had received daily requests for updates on how and when people could apply. 

“There are many trustees, staff and volunteers subsidising the government, paying for food for distribution, meeting volunteer expenses or going without, and meeting charity expenses in the hope that things will eventually come good,” Chadha said. 

“If the government really wants small charities to continue to support the response to Covid-19 and be part of our national future, it needs to avoid any further delay.

“Charities aren't just for a single press conference. They are one of the key routes to our collective recovery.”

Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the government needed to strike a balance between getting money out to organisations that need it quickly, and making sure the funds go to where they are most needed. 

“I know the government is working hard on this but I’ve made clear that time is of the essence,” he said.

“The next stage is for the government to set out their planned criteria and processes for distributing the funding, and I would like them to do that as soon as they possibly can.”

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