Regulator promises to be 'flexible and pragmatic' during outbreak

The Charity Commission will take a “flexible and pragmatic” approach to regulating the charity sector in light of the coronavirus pandemic, new guidance says.

The statement comes after the withdrawal of previous guidance, which reminded charities they might have to make serious incident reports to the regulator if the outbreak caused significant issues, but which the regulator subsequently deemed to be “not as helpful as we would have liked”.

The new guidance says it accepts that the nature of the Covid-19 pandemic means that critical meetings, events and annual general meetings might need to be cancelled or postponed on government health advice. 

Trustees are, however, asked to properly record the decision to cancel or delay AGMs and other critical meetings, especially if doing so affects a charity’s ability to file its annual report or accounts.

The commission has already confirmed that charities can request additional time for filing annual returns if this proves difficult because of the current situation.

The new guidance allows charities to use phone or virtual meetings instead of physical meetings during the crisis, as long as this is properly noted by the trustees.

The commission has also updated its guidance on reporting serious incidents, taking into account the nature of the outbreak.

“We appreciate that during the coronavirus pandemic the charity sector will face extremely demanding and ever-changing challenges," it says.

"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.”

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said the commission would be publishing further guidance in the near future.

“These are unprecedented times, which will test all parts of our society,” she said.

“Charities are no exception. Indeed, many are faced with the double challenge of meeting vastly increased demand for their services, while income from traditional fundraising events and other sources falls away.

“While the commission cannot alone alleviate these pressures on charities, we can respond by taking a pragmatic and proportionate approach to regulation and providing information that helps charities continue to comply with the spirit of their obligations while working very differently.”

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