Giving Evidence on the Small Charities Bill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATim gives evidence to the House of Lords on the new Small Charities Bill, which aims to give a Git Aid-like supplement to funds from anonymous donors.

‘Yesterday was an exciting day for me. I was invited to give evidence to the House of Lords regarding the Small Charities Bill, which plans to match funds raised through collections among small charities, community or sports groups.

‘Because Gift Aid requires the explicit consent of an identifiable donor, groups or charities which take collections or otherwise raise funds which cannot easily be traced back to the donor are currently missing out on Git Aid’s tax advantages. The new Bill seeks to remove this problem by allowing charities to claim a Gift Aid-like relief from HMRC on these funds (as long as it can be reasonably assumed that each individual donation is not more than £20).

‘So far, so good. And this is an area which definitely needs to be addressed, as more and more donations are collected in groups and often anonymously.

‘However, I have concerns about the criteria applied to the methods of collecting funds in order to be eligible for the relief.

‘The Bill allocates amounts of HMRC relief partly based on the number of buildings that an organisation uses for ‘community activities.’ Now, community activities taking place in a designated building is not the most common form of charitable work. WaveLength does its work in people’s houses, bringing entertainment and connection into their living rooms. Other small charities often work in people’s houses, out of offices, over the phone or online – and there’s no reason why this work is less important or less deserving of support than community meetings. The group which is obviously privileged by the proposed Bill is the religious-charitable sector. Churches and other religious meeting-places (such as temples, synagogues and mosques) both operate from designated buildings, and take informal and anonymous collections on a regular basis.

‘In short, although this Bill is taking the right path by addressing a funding issue which needs updating, the specific provisions regarding community buildings seem biased towards helping a particular group. I believe that to help the third sector move forwards, government needs to look at what is actually being done and how it can be supported. This is particularly important in a climate where charities everywhere are taking advantage of the possibilities (and low overheads) of technology- or office-based solutions – for instance, running volunteering organisations through collaborative software and a central database, rather than paying large rents for buildings in which to host face-to-face meetings. Instead, the Bill seems to have been designed specifically to privilege a certain type of charitable activity.

‘As ever, I’m thrilled to be part of the country’s unique democratic process, and it’s always an exciting day when I walk into the House of Lords or House of Commons! But as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Charity Finance Group, Charities Aid Foundation and Institute of Fundraising all pointed out on Twitter yesterday, changes need to be made to this Bill before we can be sure that it really works for all small charities.’