Third Sector at Large: Come on chum, we need to win a lot of changes to VAT

Guide Dogs' new campaign, Caroline Fiennes' tweet and chugging are on our minds this week

A guide dog
A guide dog

- Guide Dogs has given its backing to a campaign to put dog food on the menu at the House of Commons. Not literally, of course: it's a petition by Linda Fabiani, a member of the Scottish Parliament, to get dog food for assistance dogs for blind and deaf people zero-rated for VAT. Guide Dogs says this would save the charity £300,000 a year. At the moment, food for working dogs is based on what they eat, not what they do, and only special high-protein food qualifies. We know charity VAT rules are a dog's dinner, but that's just barking.

- A cautionary tale for social media enthusiasts, courtesy of Steve Chalke, effervescent founder of the social action charity Oasis. At a responsible capitalism event hosted by his organisation last week, Chalke pointed the audience to a large screen behind him, on which Twitter posts including the phrase #responsiblecapitalism would immediately appear. Within seconds, the audience had broken out into fits of schoolboy tittering. The screen behind him had filled with messages reading: "Steve Chalke. Smoother than a baby's bum #responsiblecapitalism." He saw the funny side.

- Also on Twitter, a short-lived debate on the NCVO's equality credentials. After the umbrella body announced plans for an event to support women in getting onto company boards, Caroline Fiennes, a philanthropy adviser and former chief executive of the Global Cool Foundation, fired off a tweet demanding "What % of their board members are women?" Forty per cent, tweeted back the NCVO, at once. "Jolly good," said Fiennes.

- The Daily Mail columnist Steve Doughty launched a broadside against "doubtful causes" this week, in a piece that began by railing against street fundraisers but ended up taking aim at, well, most of the voluntary sector. In the article, "Down with chuggers! It's time for a fightback against doubtful causes", Doughty advised readers not to give to charities that feature in TV programmes or ask for money after humanitarian disasters. Think hard about any organisation that gets government funding or has a trading arm, he cautioned. And think carefully before giving cash to any charity with a full-time press officer. Let's hope Doughty doesn't get his way, or the last person leaving the sector may have to turn off the lights on the way out.

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Charity property: could you be entitled to a huge VAT saving?

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When a property is being constructed, VAT is charged at the standard rate. But if you're a charity, health body, educational institution, housing association or finance house, the work may well fall into a category that justifies zero-rating - and you could make a massive saving

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