Parliament has passed new rules that will give international development charities more clarity about what type of work they can carry out in troubled regions.
The new Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, which completed its passage through parliament this week, will create a new sanctions regime for the UK after the country’s departure from the European Union.
The Charity Finance Group said that the existing EU sanctions rules did not specifically prohibit humanitarian activity, but nor did they provide enough clarity about what activities were allowed.
This lack of clarity had been a factor in bank derisking among international charities, according to the CFG.
The new act will create licences for humanitarian, peacebuilding, development and reconstruction activities in countries subject to sanctions, such as Syria.
The licences should give charities and banks more certainty about what type of humanitarian work is allowed in sanctioned countries, the CFG said, and the act would also allow assets to be unfrozen for humanitarian reasons.
The CFG and the international development charity representative body Bond had both received written assurances from the government that it wanted to make the rules around sanctions and humanitarian work clearer for the charity sector.
The new rules will come into force once the UK has completed its departure from the EU, including at the end of any agreed transition period.
Secondary legislation and guidance will be introduced closer to the date of Britain’s departure from the EU to implement the new sanctions laws.
Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement at the CFG, said: "This is a big win, thanks to the dogged campaigning of a coalition of charities over the last few years, including the CFG and Bond. The new sanctions regime will give the UK government much more flexibility to support humanitarian work and will give charities more certainty.
"Banks also need certainty if we are going to keep open the financial corridors to places like Syria. We will be scrutinising the secondary legislation and guidance carefully, but this is a move in the right direction."
Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond, said: "This piece of legislation has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people around the world and is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
"It will also make it easier for NGOs to deliver humanitarian peace-building and development activities in countries such as Syria and Yemen, by giving the government the power to issue exceptions and general licences for humanitarian activities that might otherwise have been subject to sanctions.
"The next step of creating a new framework for exceptions and licences still needs to be done and could take months or even years, so the sector will be watching closely."