Largest coronavirus support fund was more than £140m oversubscribed, spending watchdog finds

The National Audit Office says a fund that was due to provide £310m of emergency help to voluntary sector organisations was reduced to less than £200m

The government’s biggest coronavirus emergency support fund for charities was more than £140m oversubscribed after money originally earmarked for it was reallocated, the National Audit Office has found.

A report examining the delivery of government funding to charities during the pandemic, published by the spending watchdog today, says £310m of the government’s £750m support package for the sector was originally allocated to the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, which was managed by The National Lottery Community Fund.

But the NAO says this was later reduced to £199m, mainly due to funds being allocated into a match-funding scheme for a small number of voluntary sector organisations. After administration and evaluation costs of £11m were deducted, just £188m was left for charities to access.

The NAO’s report says the CCSF was heavily oversubscribed, receiving more than 13,800 applications worth nearly £342m.

The spending watchdog’s report says: “This narrowed the original intention from also supporting key sector players, organisations considered strategically important to communities.”

The government repurposed £85m to the Community Match Challenge scheme, which received 35 applications worth £179m.

In total, 20 organisations were selected under the CMC scheme, including seven of the 10 highest-scoring applications and all four of the lowest-scoring applications, three of which officials were “unsure if they were eligible”, the NAO found.

Of the 20 that were selected, one organisation subsequently decided to refuse the award it was offered.

Of the remaining £25m that was taken from the original £310m, £5m was spent helping to co-ordinate volunteers as part of the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport held back £20m to distribute over the winter in combination with underspends in other schemes, including the Youth Covid-19 Support Fund and the Loneliness Fund.

The NAO report says the “government stressed the need to distribute its charity funding at pace”.

But just £2m of the £200m assigned to the NLCF had been handed out at the start of July.

The spending watchdog found that £103m (21 per cent) of the funding had been handed out by the end of that month, before rising to £359m by the end of October.

A total of £454m of the £494m made available had been distributed on behalf of DCMS as of 19 February this year.

The government originally announced the £750m emergency support package for “frontline charities” affected by the coronavirus crisis in April 2020.

Charities were able to access the funding through a network of 198 partners, including at least nine government departments, three public organisations, and 186 other partners.

DCMS and partners identified 76 fraudulent applications, 70 of which resulted in money being awarded, according to the NAO.

It estimates that £614,000 had been given to fraudulent applicants, all of which relate to the CCSF.

So far 26 awards worth £400,000 have been reported to the police.

Any funds remaining undistributed or unspent by government departments, other partners or charities after 31 March are expected to be returned to the Treasury.

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