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COVID-19: Guidance and resources for churches, charities and Christian workers

 

A collection of guidance, commentary and links to further resources and information to help churches and charities through the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The following notes and commentary are designed to help church and charity leaders, along with Christian missionaries and other Christian workers to navigate their way through the many resources available during this pandemic. The laws and guidance covered apply in England. There may be variations for those based in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

We have briefly summarised the relevant material and then signposted you to further Stewardship and third party information.

Information is changing daily and you are therefore urged to check that you are viewing the most up-to-date details.

 

A. Help for Churches and Christian Charities

  1. Re-opening of churches from 4 July 2020
  2. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘CJRS’ or ‘Furloughing’)
  3. Coronavirus Job Retention Bonus Scheme
  4. Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (EOHOS)
  5. DBS Checks: Use of expired passports for ID checking during COVID-19
  6. Holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus (COVID-19)
  7. Government-backed Loan Schemes
  8. Statutory Sick Pay (‘SSP’)
  9. Tax: Expenses and benefits provided to employees during COVID-19
  10. Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay and Leave
  11. COVID-19 implications for charity accounting
  12. Protection from eviction by landlord for non payment of rent
  13. Gift Aid and the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme
  1. Deferring payments of tax due
  2. Guidance for employers and businesses during COVID-19
  3. Business Rates: Cash grants and extended rates relief for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors
  4. Coronavirus, contracts: cancellation and refunds
  5. VAT on digital publications and on supplies of essential PPE
  6. Business Rates: Empty Property Relief
  7. COVID-19 Small Business Grant Fund (‘SBGF’)
  8. Risk of fraud and cybercrime against charities during COVID-19
  9. Food charities and community groups
  10. Charities supporting victims of domestic abuse or homelessness
  11. Places of Worship Protective Security Fund open for applications

 

B. Help for Self-Employed Christian Missionaries and other Christian Workers

  1. Self Employed Income Support Scheme and welfare benefits for the self employed
  2. Deferral of Self Assessment tax payments
  3. Protection from eviction from rented and mortgaged accommodation

 

C. Help for Individuals and Workers

  1. Easing lockdown: General help
  2. Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare
  3. Help for low-income families with seriously ill or disabled children
  4. HMRC advice on giving up employment or investment income during COVID-19
  5. Scams: Scammers taking advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

 

D. Other General Resources / Signposts


 

A. Help for Churches and Christian Charities

1. Re-opening of churches from 4 July 2020

The Government published COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of places of worship from 4 July which was then updated four days later to:

  • Provide a template consent form (for GDPR purposes) to collect contact details of attendees for Test and Trace purposes (for which, see more below)
  • Emphasise that household groups should limit interaction with other household groups (i.e. not engage in conversation)

Although this is quite lengthy, those in positions of leadership and those who are responsible for church buildings should read it in its entirety. A summary can be found below.

The communal nature of places of worship can make them particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. It is with this in mind that the guidance to enable the safe re-opening of churches has been developed in consultation with faith leaders. For this reason, churches that do not meet in their own building or meet in non-traditional church settings, should also read this guidance but with the knowledge that they will also have to comply with restrictions imposed by their meeting venue – which in turn, may mean that they are not able to open just yet.

The text distinguishes the guidance between those things that ‘must’ be adhered to because they are under-pinned by law, and those things that ‘should’ be done because, although not legally required, it is strongly advised that consideration is given to them, to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Churches are advised to comply with the guidance as closely as possible, even where there is not a strict legal requirement to do so. This is in order to minimise the risk of problems with insurance, reputational damage or challenges arising from actions taken, or failure to take action, related to COVID-19.

The Guidance includes links to CPNI (Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure) and NaCTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) for advice in the context of COVID-19 and in particular, general and specific security advice, and terror threats in crowded places.

 

  • Services

Key principles

It is up to individual churches to decide if they can safely open with reference to the guidance, specific circumstances, size and type of activities, organisation, operation, management and applicable regulations. Remaining closed for the time being is an option. The following should be taken into consideration:

Assessment of risk

A COVID-19 risk assessment should be undertaken. Failure to do so could breach Health and Safety legislation as could having a risk assessment with insufficient measures set out. The guidance links to generic guidance on risk assessment from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Some church denominations have developed their own for use by their churches.

For example: 

Church of England

Baptist Union

FIEC

 

Number in attendance

There is not a specific limit on the number of people attending a service in a place of worship. The limit should be determined by the capacity of the building whilst complying with the COVID-19 secure guidelines, following risk assessment and strict adherence to social distancing.

Social distancing

All parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. From 4 July, 2 metres, or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable) is acceptable. Worshippers should limit their interactions with anyone they are not attending the service with, i.e. if attending with one other household, wherever possible you should try not to engage in conversation with anyone outside of your group.

Additional risk mitigations should be covered in the risk assessment. For instance, avoiding any face-to-face seating by changing layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, and closing non-essential social spaces.

Queue management and one-way systems to control the flow of household groups in and out of the premises in a socially distanced way is important to reduce the risk of congestion or contact. Organised departure (for example one row at a time) at the end of the service could form part of this. Consideration should be given to those waiting outside, including the introduction of socially distanced queuing systems, as well as to those with physical disabilities.

Streaming of services

Continuation of streaming worship services is encouraged to avoid the necessity for larger gatherings at church itself. In particular, this will benefit the aged and infirm, those who are clinically vulnerable and those that have or think that they may have symptoms.

Shared items

Reusable / communal items such as prayer mats, service sheets, bibles etc should be removed from use. Single-use alternatives, removed by, and disposed by, the worshipper can be used. If it is necessary to use (for example) pew bibles, these should be cleaned and quarantined 48 hours before and after use (cleaning advice is given in the guidance).

Food and drink

Detailed advice is given to avoid spread of infection from use of food and drink as part of the act of worship. This is probably limited to holy communion. Churches are advised to avoid use of communal vessels.

Cafes within a place of worship are permitted to open with limited table service and social distancing. The hospitality guidance should be observed.

Singing etc., and use of musical instruments

Singing, chanting, shouting or speaking loudly (i.e. anything involving voice projection) and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult should be avoided.

Musical instruments that involve blowing into should be specifically avoided including in worship, devotions or rehearsals. This applies even if there is social distancing and face coverings are in use.

If necessary, one individual (only) can sing but plexi glass screening should be considered to protect other worshippers. The screen should be cleaned, as appropriate.

Music recordings are suggested in place of live singing.

Cash offerings

Where possible, cash offerings should be discouraged in favour of bank to bank, online or contactless giving. Stewardship’s give.net service can assist here, including the ability to put a ‘donate now’ button onto your website.

Where cash offerings are necessary, cash should be collected in a receptacle that is set in one place and handled by one individual, as opposed to being passed around. Regular cleaning and hygiene should be maintained, and gloves worn to handle cash offerings where giving continues.

Cleaning and hygiene

Advice is given on cleaning and areas needing to be cleaned regularly such as door handles, rails etc.

On entering and leaving the church, everyone, including staff, should wash their hands thoroughly or use hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available. Signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique and the need to increase handwashing frequency should be used, including reminders of the need to avoid touching one’s face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into the crook of the sleeved arm if a tissue is not available.

Hand sanitiser should be provided in multiple locations in addition to those in toilet facilities.

The Christian charity, CPO, has produced a range of social distancing resources, including ‘welcome to church’ posters, as well as PPE equipment.

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers has published guidance on Coronavirus, SARS-COV-2 and HVAC Systems.

Face coverings

Face coverings are optional and the guidance provides assistance on how to put them on and take them off, how to make a face covering at home and the benefits of wearing them.

Toilets

Detailed guidance is given on how toilets can be opened whilst managing the risk of transmission of COVID-19, including maintaining social distancing, ventilation, sanitation and waste facilities / collection.

Young people and children

The guidance covers supervision, hand hygiene, shared facilities including toys being removed or put out of use, outdoor play areas and application of general DFE guidance for children’s activities being organised alongside the service.

Test and Trace

Churches should keep an accurate temporary record of attendees for 21 days, in a way that is manageable and to assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed for contact tracing and the investigation of local outbreaks.

The Government will work with church leaders to make the process for recording compliant with data protection legislation and as manageable as possible.

 

  • Use of buildings by other user groups

Where a church’s premises is used by other user groups, activities permitted by law can take place. Businesses that can and cannot open from 4 July are set out in this guidance.

For permitted uses of church premises not included in this guidance, reference should be made to the following specific guidance:

 Further guidance on meetings or small gatherings, as now permitted in other multi-use settings is promised shortly.

 

  • Weddings

Along with the main guidance for places of worship, the Government has also published separate COVID-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships. This picks up on much of the main guidance but in addition, also includes:

Number in attendance

This is limited to 30 people, excluding staff employed by the marriage venue but including other staff such as photographers, caterers or security. Numbers attending will be subject to risk assessment and social distancing requirements and so could be lower than 30.

A somewhat confusing paragraph states that (our emphasis added):

“From 4 July, gatherings of more than 30 people will be permitted but only in certain public places as set out in law. This will include all licensed venues where legal marriage ceremonies can take place, however it is strongly advised that numbers are restricted to 30 for public health reasons.”

We think this means that whilst a place of worship is amongst those places where a public gathering of more than 30 people is permitted , for the purposes of a wedding service within that place of worship, attendance should be limited to 30. Therefore, it is strongly advisable to assume that the maximum number is always limited to 30 people, as above.

Duration

The guidance advises that ceremonies should be kept as short as reasonably possible and limited to the parts of the ceremonies that are required in order for the marriage or civil partnership to be legally binding.

Receptions / celebrations

Any receptions that typically follow or accompany marriages or civil partnerships are strongly advised not to take place. Small celebrations should only take place if following social distancing guidelines – i.e. in groups of up to two households indoors, or up to six people from different households outdoors.

Other

There is also guidance on (no) food and drink, public hygiene in the exchange of rings and holding of infants by parent / guardian, seating rearrangements, protective screens, removal of shared facilities for children (such as play areas, soft furnishings, toys etc.), and face coverings.

 

  • Funerals

The guidance on people attending funerals has not changed, except that members of a ‘support bubble’ count as household members from 13 June. The Church of England began permitting funerals in their churches from 15 June, subject to Government restrictions on attendees.

  

2. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘CJRS’ or ‘Furloughing’)

The CJRS is available to churches and charities where staff are paid under PAYE. This includes office holders such as ministers of religion.

The Scheme is designed to protect jobs where falls in an employer’s income as a result of COVID-19 may put those jobs at risk.

The Scheme rules changed on 1 July 2020 as follows:

 

  1. The scheme became more flexible to enable employers to bring previously furloughed employees back part time and still receive a grant for the time when they are not working.
  2. From 1‌‌ August 2020, employers will have to start contributing to the wage costs of paying their furloughed staff and this employer contribution will gradually increase in September and October. More details appear below.
  3. The scheme will close to new entrants from 30‌‌ June.

 

From 1 July the scheme is only available to employers that have previously used it in respect of employees they have previously furloughed. An exception to this is parents who have been on statutory maternity and paternity leave who return to work in the coming months after a long period of absence. They will be permitted to be furloughed, even after 10 June cut-off date provided that they work for an employer who has previously furloughed employees.

 

Claims under the new Scheme can be made from 1 July, but note that claim periods will no longer be able to overlap months. Employers who previously submitted claims with periods that overlapped calendar months will no longer be able to do this going forward. This is necessary to reflect the changes to the scheme from that date.

 

  • Employer contributions to CJRS payments to employees:

The following contributions are payable by employers under the new Scheme from 1 July 2020 for hours not worked (ie furloughed hours) during the month. 

The employer will be responsible for paying normal contractual pay for hours actually worked. 

 

 

Government max. contribution

Employer contribution

July 2020

80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 + employer National Insurance Contributions (ER NICS) + statutory pension contributions (Pens)

Nil

August 2020

80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500

ER NICS + Pens

September 2020

70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50

ER NICS + Pens + 10%

October 2020

60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875.00

ER NICS + Pens + 20%

 

From September, employers will pay ER NICs, statutory pension contributions and the stated percentage of wages to make up the 80% Scheme total, up to a cap of £2,500.

The caps in each month (which apply to both Government and employer furlough payments) are proportional to the hours not worked. Therefore, if an employee works 50% of the time and is furloughed for the remaining time, the above caps are reduced by half.

  • Example:

A furloughed employee normally earns £3,500 per month. From 1 August, the employer brings the employee back to work for 50% of working hours.

 

  • Up to 31 July 2020, the Government will fund £2,500 per month (80% of wages being more than the £2,500 cap). They will also fund ER NICS and the statutory pension contributions.
  • In August 2020, the Government will pay £1,250 (80% x £3,500 x 50%, but subject to a cap of £2,500 x 50%). The employer is only responsible for the cost of the ERS NICS and pension contributions.
  • In September 2020, the Government contribution will fall to £1,093.75 (70% x £3,500 x 50%, but subject to a cap of £2,187.50 x 50%). The balance of the furloughed pay of £156.25 (£2,500 x 50% - £1,093.75) and the cost of the ERS NICS and pension contributions will now be the responsibility of the employer.
  • In October 2020, the Government contribution will fall to £937.50 (60% x £3,500 x 50%, but subject to a cap of £1,875 x 50%). The balance of the furloughed pay £312.50 (£2,500 x 50% - £937.50) and the cost of the ERS NICS and pension contributions will now be the responsibility of the employer.

Claims can be made in respect of employees on your PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020 where an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee has been made to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020. 

  • Penalties for errors in CRJS claims 

HMRC will have powers to investigate any business where it believes the strict rules for claiming the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) grant have been broken.

This includes employees undertaking any form of work for their employer’s business, or where amounts claimed by an employer have not been passed on in full to their furloughed employees.

HMRC will be able to:

  • check that a CJRS or SEISS claim has not been overpaid, that a grant under the furlough scheme has been used to pay employee wages etc. and pension contribution costs, within a reasonable period.

 

  • impose an income tax charge on persons who receive a grant to which they are not fully entitled and/or improperly use a CJRS grant. This charge will be 100% of the amount of the grant that has been incorrectly claimed or used, less any amount already repaid.

 

  • charge a penalty, in addition, in cases of deliberate non-compliance.

It is therefore advisable to review and consider if CJRS calculations are in fact correct and the scheme rules have been fully complied with.

 

  • Guidance

Our partner solicitors have written separate briefings on the CJRS from 1 July which can be found here.

Updated HMRC guidance for employers can be found here and here. HMRC has added guidance on how to calculate your employee’s wages, NI and pension if you’re claiming through the CJRS.

Guidance on how much you can claim, including an online calculator, which has been updated to calculate furlough payments from 1 July, can be found here.

HMRC guidance for employees

 

3. Coronavirus Job Retention Bonus Scheme

This scheme which was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 8 July will provide a one-off payment to employers of £1,000 for each employee they claimed a grant for under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that has been retained on staff from June 2020 to 31 January 2021. To be eligible, employees will also need to:

  • Earn at least £520 per month (above the Lower Earnings Limit) on average for November, December and January
  • Have been furloughed by you at any point and legitimately claimed for under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Employers will be able to claim the bonus from February 2021 once accurate RTI data to 31 January has been received. More information about this scheme will be available by 31 July and full guidance will be published in the Autumn.

The purpose of the scheme is to incentivise employers to keep employees on during a period of continued uncertainty, especially those that are lower paid and at a higher risk of unemployment. The necessary Legal Direction under s76 Coronavirus Act 2020 (which will set out the detail of the scheme rules) will be made by the Chancellor later this year.

 

4. Eat Out to Help Out Scheme (EOHOS)

The Government announced (8 July) a novel support scheme whereby people of any age dining out between 3 and 31 August on Mondays to Wednesdays would be entitled to a 50% discount off of their bill, which would be refunded to the dining establishment by the Government. The Treasury has issued the necessary Direction for the EOHOS to go ahead. From this, it seems that some churches and charities will potentially be able to take part in the scheme.

Restaurant’ means an establishment including a restaurant, café, canteen, public house, dining room in a hotel or members’ club or similar.

A ‘qualifying restaurant’ is one that has been registered with the relevant local authority on or before 7 July 2020 as a place from which a food business is carried on.

A ‘qualifying sale’ is a sale of food or non-alcoholic drink for immediate consumption on the restaurant premises between the dates and on the days mentioned above. Consumption in outdoor seating areas will qualify.

Note that VAT registered entities will need to account for VAT on the full amount of the customer’s bill. For non-charitable trading subsidiaries undertaking qualifying sales, the government refunds will form part of the entities taxable income.

It follows that any church or charity premises that fit within the above definitions will be able to take part in the scheme providing useful evangelistic and marketing opportunities during the month of August.

HMRC will administer the scheme and has provided guidance for food and drink providers, including examples of the application of the discount. Providers can register under the scheme from 13 July.

 

5. DBS Checks: Use of expired passports for ID checking during COVID-19

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has previously announced some relaxations to identity (ID) checking procedures during COVID-19 which enable:

  • ID documents to be viewed over video link
  • Scanned images to be used in advance of the DBS check being submitted

They have now announced an additional temporary relaxation to allow expired UK passports to be used for ID checking purposes, if within six months of their expiry date.

 

6. Holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Support has published an explanation of how holiday entitlement and pay operate during the coronavirus pandemic, where it differs from the standard holiday entitlement and pay guidance. It covers employers’ legal obligations towards both those that have continued to work, as well as those that have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The Guidance covers:

 

 

7. Government-backed Loan Schemes

The Government has launched several loan schemes designed to finance entities through the difficulties caused by COVID-19. These schemes are overseen by the Government-owned British Business Bank.

Initial eligibility criteria suggested that religious charities would not qualify. It appears that the criteria have since been changed and that now, all charities “are in principle eligible if they satisfy the other eligibility criteria of the Scheme”. Registered charities are exempt from the requirement that 50% of the applicant’s income must be derived from trading activity.

There are two separate but related schemes that are most likely to be of interest to Christian charities, both of which have ‘turnover’ tests. It is not entirely clear what would constitute ‘turnover’ in the charity context but we understand that the banks are using the charity’s gross income.

To be eligible for both schemes, the charity must be based in the UK and have been negatively affected by coronavirus:

  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (‘CBILS’)

CBILS provides loans from £50,001 up to £5m via third party accredited lenders on repayment terms of up to six years, to entities with a turnover of less than £45m. The first 12 months of interest and lender-levied fees are covered by the Government which will guarantee 80% of the borrowing.

More information can be found using the links from here and here.

  • Micro Loan Scheme (‘Business Bounce Back’ loans)

This scheme provides for loans  between £2,000 and £50,000 (up to a maximum of 25% of turnover). The loan can be for up to six years. There are no set-up fees and first 12 months’ of interest payments will be covered by the Government. No repayments need to be made during the first 12 months. The Government will guarantee 100% of the borrowing.

More information can be found using the links from here and here.

 

8. Statutory Sick Pay (‘SSP’)

HMRC has published guidance on claiming back SSP paid to employees due to COVID-19. SSP for sickness related to coronavirus is payable from the first day of sickness (rather than after the normal four waiting days). The Government will reimburse coronavirus-related SSP to the employer for the first two weeks and has now announced that claims can be made from 26 May 2020.


9. Tax: Expenses and benefits provided to employees during COVID-19

HMRC has published Guidance on tax reliefs and exemptions (and benefits that remain subject to income tax) arising from employees working from home because their workplace has closed or they have been advised to self isolate. Please note that this Guidance does not apply to furloughed workers.

The Guidance, which can be found here, covers issues such as provision of mobile devices and other employer-provided equipment, broadband installation costs, laptops, computers etc, office supplies, employer-provided loans, additional costs of electricity, heating and broadband and hotel and subsistence costs away from home where self isolating.

The above Guidance incorporates the principle set out on 13 May 2020 by Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury in a Written Statement in the House of Commons. That is, that where an employer reimburses expenses for office equipment bought by an employee for use at home during the coronavirus emergency, there will be a temporary tax exemption and National Insurance disregard to ensure that the expense will not attract tax and NICs liabilities provided that two conditions (set out in the Statement apply). This will be backdated to 16 March and will apply for the remainder of the 2020/21 tax year.

HMRC has also published guidance for employers on ‘How to Treat certain expenses and benefits provided to employees during coronavirus (COVID-19)’ including: Living Accommodation; Volunteer fuel and Mileage Costs; Paying or Refunding Transport Costs; Company Car ‘availability’; and how to report these expenses and benefits to HMRC.

On 9 July, HMRC amended this guidance to confirm that provision of test kits to employees outside of the government’s national testing scheme will not be subject to income tax or Class 1A National Insurance contributions. They will legislate for this through regulations and update their guidance shortly. Likewise, free provision of PPE to employees in high risk environments is not taxable.


10. Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay and Leave

Working parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will receive two weeks’ statutory leave and
Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay, where the death occurred on or after 6 April 2020.

More details can be found here.

Employers can reclaim up to 103% of the cost. More details can be found here.

 

11. COVID-19 implications for charity accounting

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) has produced a guide that highlights a number of key issues arising from COVID-19 that may require consideration in connection with trustees’ annual reports and accounts for charities.

It is aimed particularly at preparers of a charity’s reports and accounts, and the trustees (who are ultimately responsible for them and therefore need to understand the potential impact of COVID-19 in this context). It is therefore highly recommended reading!


12. Protection from eviction by landlord for non payment of rent

The Coronavirus Act 2020, s82, provides that forfeiture of business tenancies for non-payment of rent cannot be enforced within the period 26 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 inclusive, or a later date if the Secretary of State extends it. The Secretary of State exercised his power to extend this on 17 June (SI2020/602) meaning that s82 now applies for the period 26 March 2020 to 30 September 2020.

The Act defines “rent” as being any sum a tenant is liable to pay under the lease, which includes service charges and insurance rent contributions.

For charities, this can be a relief or a burden! Those of whom are renting property and unable to pay their rent, landlords will not be able to evict them. Of course, the opposite is true: if your charity has tenants that rent property from you, you will also not be able to take enforcement action. In all cases, the rent still falls due and will need to be paid at a later date.

One note of caution: the Act does not prevent landlords from taking other actions such as Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (CRAR), making a debt claim, issuing a statutory demand, or commencing winding-up proceedings. So far in this regard, The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has urged landlords to act in a socially responsible way and to exercise judgement and discretion with tenants. It remains to be seen if the government will take more proactive steps to prevent landlords from effectively side-stepping the Act during the lockdown period.

On the other hand, empty properties at this particular point in time will be an unattractive proposition for landlords!


13. Gift Aid and the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme

 

  • Gift Aid Claims
    HMRC assures us that COVID-19 will not delay Gift Aid claim repayments. Virtually all HMRC staff
    are now working remotely and IT issues around that have been resolved. Payments should,
    HMRC say, be quicker.
  • Gift Aid on cancelled events

    The Government has agreed to temporarily enable attendees of events that have been cancelled as a result of COVID-19 to be allowed to donate their event ticket price to the hosting charity, under Gift Aid, without the need for the price paid to be refunded to the ticket holder first. There are conditions that have to be met, which are set out in HMRC’s Guidance here.

    Note that the relaxation only applies to cancelled and not postponed events.

  • Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (‘GASDS’)
    Whilst churches have been unable to meet because of Government restrictions on public gatherings,
    they risk losing the benefit of payments under the GASDS. We, along with Charity Tax Group asked HMRC if they would consider temporarily relaxing the GASDS rules to allow donors who would have given small donations within the Scheme each week to give a lump sum at the end of the lockdown period. Their response was as follows:

    “In respect of GASDS, guidance on the eligibility for donations for inclusion in this scheme is clear in stating that claims can only be made on cash donations of £30 or less; and contactless card donations of £30 or less collected on or after 6 April 2019.

    “The decision over what constitutes an eligible donation is one for the church/charity to make for themselves, rather than for HMRC, but the conditions for something to be considered a ‘small donation’ are clearly set out in legislation. Where it is the case, for example, of separate donations being given in a single envelope, then if the church/charity official is happy these are clearly separate ‘small donations’ (and clearly stated as such) then they will be eligible for GASDS, as is the case where separate envelopes are used.”

    This leaves some ambiguity as to what will or will not be permitted. Churches are therefore advised to encourage taxpaying donors to set up standing orders or other forms of digital giving and sign a Gift Aid declaration in the normal way.
  • Flexibility over deadlines and submissions
    Charity Tax Group asked HMRC to consider introducing flexibility of tax reporting requirements and deadlines with specific mention of corporate and trust tax returns, and the making of corporate Gift Aid payments by trading subsidiaries to its parent charity. Their response was as follows:

     

    “HMRC does not have any statutory discretion to extend filing deadlines and in any case, we think it is likely that most tax-payers will be able to file their returns and/or claims on time. However, if a charity is unable to file a tax return on time or submit a claim, and this is because of the impact of COVID-19, HMRC will consider this in line with the normal ‘reasonable excuse’ process.”

    The message therefore, is if you are likely to have problems, contact HMRC as early as possible and keep copies of any correspondence (including  email) and make a written record of any telephone conversations noting the date of the call and the name of the HMRC officer concerned.

 

14. Deferring payments of tax due

There are several schemes available to charities who will have difficulty meeting their tax payment
obligations:

  • PAYE/NI, and corporation tax
    Charities in financial distress because of COVID-19, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.

    These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. Contact should be made via web chat or by telephone. Details can be found here.
    Official guidance states that interest will be payable on any tax paid late as a result of agreement with HMRC, penalties will be avoided if contact is made with HMRC in a timely manner.

    However, HMRC’s Chief Executive, Jim Harra, has stated to the Treasury Select Committee on 8 April 2020 that no penalties or interest will be collected on tax liabilities deferred as a result of COVID-19. This will require a Statutory Instrument to be passed in Parliament and therefore, until this is passed, we cannot fully confirm this will apply to these taxes.
  • VAT
    Charities that are registered for VAT have been able to defer any VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020, until 31 March 2021. This relaxation comes to an end on 30 June and there will be no extension. You should, therefore, set up any cancelled direct debits in enough time for HMRC to take payment, submit your VAT return as normal, and on time, and pay the VAT in full on payments due after 30 June 2020. 


    You should also remember to pay any legitimately deferred VAT on or before 31 March 2021. There will be no interest or penalties for late payment of this deferred VAT.

     More information can be found here.

 

15. Guidance for employers and businesses during COVID-19

Government guidance for staying open safely during the pandemic - Summary advice to follow to protect employees and customers, whilst continuing to operate. This includes social distancing, hygiene, cleanliness, staff sickness advice and staying at home.

As part of the easing of lockdown, the Government has published a series of Eight Guidance Notes on creating a COVID Secure workplace. These cover (amongst others) outdoor work, offices and contact centres, people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes, restaurants offering takeaway or delivery services and shops.

We expect further guidance to be issued in relation to places of worship and funerals (for which, see Section 1, above).

Employers are reminded of their legal duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and workers. On this theme, the Government has also published a series of Coronavirus Outbreak FAQs. Useful sections for employers include ‘Who is allowed to go to work?’; ‘Do people need to wear face coverings at work’ and sections on Workers’ Rights and Public Transport.

General guidance on making a work place COVID-19 secure, published by the HSE can be found here and in links from that page.

 

16. Business Rates: Cash grants and extended rates relief for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors
(England; see separate guidance for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)

These reliefs can, potentially, apply to charity shops, coffee shops and certain trading subsidiaries of churches and charities that are subject to business rates, even if they qualify for charity relief from those rates.

It applies to properties wholly or mainly used for (amongst other things) shops, restaurants, cafés, drinking establishments, cinemas, live music venues, assembly and leisure, hotels, guest and boarding premises.

There are two forms of relief:

  • Business rates relief at 100% for the rating year 2020/21. There is no upper limit on rateable value. Where a charity receives 80% mandatory relief and no discretionary relief, this relief can cover the remaining 20%.
  • Cash grants:
    o For rateable value of up to £15,000 – a grant of £10,000
    o For rateable value of up to £50,999 – a grant of £25,000

Charities that qualify for mandatory 80% rates relief still qualify for these grants even if they
also receive 20% discretionary rates relief.

Summary guidance from the Charity Tax Group can be found here.

Both reliefs are being administered by local authorities and should be paid automatically. There is only need to contact the LA if a church or charity considers that they should qualify and don’t receive the relief.

 

17. Coronavirus, contracts: cancellation and refunds

The Competition and Markets Authority has published useful guidance on the subject of consumer facing businesses responsibilities where contracts are cancelled because of the pandemic. Churches and other venues should be aware of expectations in this area in respect of weddings, conferences, children’s nursery places and the like.

The guidance explains how the law operates in this area and is designed to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses treat their customers fairly.

For completeness, on 7 May 2020, the Cabinet Office published “Guidance on responsible contractual behaviour in the performance and enforcement of contracts impacted by the Covid-19 emergency”. The Guidance is non-statutory and covers issues in very broad terms. Somewhat repetitively it asks contracting parties to act “responsibly and fairly”. Nevertheless, it is worth being aware where negotiation is needed on a contract impacted by COVID-19. Whilst being non-statutory, parties that choose to ignore it risk reputational damage going forwards.

 

18. VAT on digital publications and on supplies of essential PPE

From 1 May 2020, supplies of certain digital publications (such as charity members’ magazines) are permanently zero rated for VAT purposes. Supplies prior to this date were standard rated (20%) in contrast to paper equivalents of the same publications which have always been zero rated.

From the same date, supplies of essential personal protective equipment (‘PPE’) are also zero rated for a temporary period that has now been extended until 31 October 2020.

 

19. Business Rates: Empty Property Relief

Charities liable to business rates but who are unable to benefit from the Extended Relief for retail etc premises, above, should give consideration to a claim for Empty Property Relief where this results from Government instructions to close the premises. 

 

20. COVID-19 Small Business Grant Fund (‘SBGF’)

The SBGF is available to businesses in England in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief or Rural Rates Relief giving rise to a payment of £10,000. However, as charities benefit from 80% mandatory rates relief (and in come cases and additional 20% discretionary relief), they do not qualify for SBGF.

However, the Government announced (2 May 2020) a Top Up to Local Business Grant Funds Scheme. This is a discretionary fund to accommodate certain small businesses otherwise outside the scope of the SBGF. Funds will be provided to local authorities for them to use locally on a discretionary basis to assist small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs. The Government is asking local authorities to prioritise, amongst others, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief.

More details can be found here and here (with particular reference to Paragraph 24).

 

21. Risk of fraud and cybercrime against charities during COVID-19

The Government has once again warned that fraudsters are exploiting the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to carry out fraud and cybercrime. Police have reported an increase in COVID-19-related scams. They state that all charities, but especially those providing services and supporting local communities during the COVID-19 crisis, could be targeted by fraudsters.

The Alert gives examples of the types of fraud circulating, protection measures that can be taken and how to report fraud and cybercrime to the relevant authorities.

 

22. Food charities and community groups

The Government has announced a £16 million fund to provide food for those who are struggling as a result of coronavirus. The programme will run for 12 weeks from 8 May 2020 and it is said that at least 5,000 frontline charities and community groups in England will benefit, including refuges, homeless shelters and rehabilitation services. It will cover rural areas as well as cities, targeting those who are struggling to get food.

 

23. Charities supporting victims of domestic abuse or homelessness

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced £16 million of funding for charities working with victims of domestic abuse and homelessness:

  • Charities can bid for a share of £10 million funding to support victims of domestic abuse. The money will be used to support additional refuge bed spaces and specialist support.
  • A further £6 million will also be given to homelessness charities to support their work during this time

 

24. Places of Worship Protective Security Fund open for applications

At a time when finances are tight for many churches during lockdown and when security considerations may be more important than usual, the Government’s £3.2m Places of Worship Protective Security Fund may provide welcome support. Applications for grant funding are open until 9 August. The scheme allows churches to receive government funding to improve physical security. This can include more secure gates, locks, alarms and CCTV in order to deter and prevent hate crime attacks.


 

B. Help for self-employed Christian Missionaries and other Christian
Workers

Christian workers who are self employed and rely on raising their own support will ordinarily be
liable to income tax on funds raised because of their Christian work.


1. Self Employed Income Support Scheme and welfare benefits for the self employed

For the self-employed that have lost income as a result of COVID-19, the scheme provides a
taxable grant worth 80% of profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, covering a three month period. This is now known as ‘The First Grant’. Applications for the First Grant opened on 13 May 2020 and will close on 13 July 2020.

The Government has announced a ‘Second and Final Grant’. Eligibility and calculations are the same as for The First Grant. Like the first, it will provide a taxable grant worth (a slightly reduced amount of) 70% per cent of average monthly trading profits. This will again be paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profit, and is capped at £6,570 in total.

For the Second and Final Grant, individuals will need to confirm that their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus on or after 14 July 2020. Claims can be made from August 2020. A claim for the second grant can be made even if you did not make a claim for the first grant. The Guidance provides examples of what is meant by ‘adversely affected’ by coronavirus.

On 17 June, the Government announced that self-employed parents whose trading profits dipped in 2018/19 because they took time out to have children will be able to claim under the SEISS.

Mothers, fathers and those who have adopted, who took time out of trading to care for their children within the first 12 months of birth of the child or within 12 months of an adoption placement, will now be able to use either their 2017-18 or both their 2016-17 and 2017-18 self-assessment returns as the basis for their eligibility for the SEISS.

Further details of the change for self-employed parents will be set out by the start of July in published guidance.

To confirm eligibility under the SEISS, click here and enter your Self Assessment UTR and NI number. The system will tell you if you are eligible. Money will be paid into eligible claimants’ bank accounts within six working days of completing a claim.

Tax agents should not claim under the SEIS for their clients. If they do, it will trigger a fraud alert on HMRC systems and the client will need to contact HMRC to resolve this. It will inevitably delay payment.

Equally, if a third party contacts you offering to help you claim, it is a scam. Do not click on any links; only you can claim. It is a simple process and HMRC will calculate the amount payable for you, using information that they already hold.

HMRC has published a useful guide, with examples, as to how to calculate profits and total income.

  • Tax credits

The Government has confirmed that people who cannot work their normal hours because of coronavirus (COVID-19) will still receive their usual tax credits payments. Note: this applies to both the self employed and employed workers who have been furloughed.

More information can be found here.

  • Universal Credit

DWP has published a guide on how to report your earnings from self employment for Universal Credit purposes.

 

2. Deferral of Self Assessment tax payments

Self Assessment payments on account due on 31 July 2020 can be deferred until 31 January 2021.There will be no penalties or interest on late payment. Deferral is automatic and applies to any Self Assessment taxpayers but according to HMRC, if you are able to pay on 31 July 2020, you should do so.

 

3. Protection from eviction from rented and mortgaged accommodation

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, no tenant in social or private accommodation can be forced out of
their home as landlords will not be able to take any court action against a tenant for non payment of
rent until after 23 August 2020. This is an extension to the June date originally provided for in the Act.

The Government has also made clear that where tenants do experience financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, landlords and tenants should work together and exhaust all possible options, such as flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant’s individual circumstances, to ensure cases only end up in court as an absolute last resort.

Furthermore, landlords will now have to give all tenants three months’ notice (instead of two) if they intend to seek possession (i.e. serve notice that they want to end the tenancy). This extended period will apply in law until 30 September 2020 and both the end point and the three-month notice period can be extended if needed.

This protection covers most tenants in the private and social rented sectors in England and Wales, and all grounds of evictions. This includes possession of tenancies in the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985, the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Act 1988. If the tenant has not moved after three months, the landlord needs to apply to court in order to proceed.

The suspension of housing possession cases will also apply to possession cases brought by mortgagees against homeowners, and to possession cases brought by landlords against leaseholders (forfeiture).

Additional information can be found here and here. Note: these pages have not been updated for the moratorium on hearings in court for rent arrears until after 23 August.

 


  

C. Help for individuals and Workers

 1. Easing lockdown: General help

As the Government has begun to ease the lockdown, there has been uncertainty in many people’s minds around what they can or cannot do and what they should or shouldn’t do.

The Government has published a series of Coronavirus Outbreak FAQs which cover topics such as: Public Spaces and Outdoor Exercise (which includes some helpful guidance on ‘What can I do that I couldn’t do before? [13 May 2020]; Going to Work / Safer Spaces (which includes guidance on who is or isn’t currently allowed to go to work  and the issue of face coverings); Workers Rights; Public Transport; and Schools and Childcare amongst other areas.

From this, there are links to other forms of guidance such as:

 

2. Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare

On 7 May, the Government published temporary changes to the eligibility criteria for Tax-Free Childcare and 30 hours free childcare, during coronavirus. The changes may affect you if you, or someone you live with, are:

  • On furlough
  • Not able to work or you’re working less
  • Self-employed
  • A critical worker

More details can be found here.

 

3. Help for low-income families with seriously ill or disabled children

The Government has announced over £37 million of funding to help low-income families with seriously ill or disabled children with the cost of equipment, goods or services. Of the total amount, £10 million has been committed to the unique difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, helping parents educate and look after disabled or critically ill children who are staying at home more than usual.

Families with children that have complex needs and disabilities will be eligible for grants through Family Fund for vital equipment to make their lives easier while implementing social distancing measures, including computers, specialist equipment and educational toys.

 

4. HMRC advice on giving up employment or investment income during COVID-19

HMRC is urging people to check the tax rules on waiving income or donating to charity. It is aimed at those who choose to give up some of their income to support their business or donate to charity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, in order to keep the business going, it may not possible to furlough all staff. It may, therefore, be necessary for directors and staff to consider taking a pay cut and a waiver of salary is one way to achieve this.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do these things! The guidance should help avoid a situation where tax and national insurance is still payable even though the waived income is never received. It covers salaries, bonuses and dividends that are either waived or paid back after receipt.

 

5. Scams: Scammers taking advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

HMRC is reporting that, so far, they have detected more than 70 COVID-19-related financial scams, and have asked Internet Service Providers to take down over 400 web pages associated with these scams.

Mimicking government communications, one of the new scams says that it has ‘identified you as a candidate for the Key Worker Rebate’.

They are urging people to check GOV.UK for information on how to recognise genuine HMRC contact and how to avoid and report scams. Suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC should reported to: [email protected] Texts should be sent to 60599.  

 

D. Other General Resources / Signposts

Charity Tax Group - Coronavirus Hub for charity tax and finance professionals

Charity Excellence Framework - Many, many potential grant funders (local,
national and international). Register for free access to the searchable database from the link on this page.

NCVO – A list of funding opportunities for charities including brief details of grant criteria.

London Funders – has coordinated a list of over 250 Grant Funders that have pledged to stand with the Charity Sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and to operate in a flexible way to support the sector at this time.

HMRC - HMRC has a number of webinars and YouTube videos on the various business support packages, including the deferral of VAT and Income Tax payments, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the HMRC Time to Pay Scheme.