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COVID-19: Financial Guidance for Churches

 

Stewardship's technical team have compiled this guidance, which will be regularly updated, to answer the key questions churches may be grappling with at this time.

Suggestions have been kept generic so that churches can adapt them to meet their own circumstances in the changing landscape. We have covered the most pressing questions on:

  1. Church finances
  2. Government help to pay staff
  3. Gift Aid and Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme
  4. Providing emergency help to those in your congregation

 


 

1. Church finances

Keep a close eye on the financial situation in your church, most particularly the flow of cash now and for the next three to six months. Points to consider: 

  • Income from donations may fall because of:
    • No collections at services;
    • The potential for congregation members to reduce their giving due to a change in circumstances
  • Income from lettings and other church activities may fall because:
    • Casual lettings are likely to stop completely;
    • Longer-term rental agreements may not be able to be honoured/renewed
  • The repayment of Gift Aid and Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme may be slower than usual;
  • Variable expenditure is likely to fall
  • Some expenditure is fixed and may have contractual considerations, so you need to think through the implications of this expenditure and consider serving notice in cases where this might be appropriate

We suggest:

  • Construct a simple (and realistic) three to six month cash flow statement to project cash flow over the short term, amending this as new experience comes to light. See appendix 1 for a straightforward template that you could use.
  • Communicate with your core donors and supporters. This will help them feel connected to what is happening.
  • Make sure that your congregation and supporters know how to make electronic donations by providing sort code and bank account details.
  • Review banking arrangements to determine whether changes to signing mandates may be required.
  • Devise a contingency plan or plans in the event that the financial situation at your church worsens beyond that which you currently imagine.
  • Consider taking up a special offering. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-2, Paul commended the Macedonian churches for their generosity, not at a time of surplus, but when they themselves were under pressure: ‘And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
  • Speak with mortgage lenders and other contractual providers to see if a payment ‘holiday’ can be agreed.

And remember, reserves are held for a reason and this may be just that reason.

 


 

2. Government help to pay staff

As part of the Government’s response to the situation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a Job Retention Scheme whereby the employer charity could claim 80% of workers’ wages up to £2,500 per month for employees that would otherwise be made redundant.

This scheme is designed for people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on the payroll. It is not a scheme designed to subsidise workers who continue to work. Our view is therefore that unless the employee would have been made redundant and is not continuing to work for the charity, this scheme is not currently available.

At the time of writing, the details of how to apply, what information is needed, how and when payment will be made and other issues that may be relevant are not known, but we expect announcements to be made soon. Government guidance regarding the job retention scheme can be found here.

 


 

3. Gift Aid and Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme (GASDS)

There are no proposed changes to the way that Gift Aid or GASDS will operate.  At present, and for the foreseeable future, churches will not be receiving donations during church services and so there may be larger donations waiting for churches when normal services are able to resume.

It remains unclear whether what would have been 12 gifts of £20, and therefore eligible for GASDS, is no longer eligible if it becomes one gift of £240. Our current advice would be to tell donors to set aside regular gifts (a list with dates will suffice) so that churches are in the best position to make and support a later GASDS claim. Please remember that electronic payments are NOT eligible for GASDS, although contactless payments are.

 


 

4. Providing emergency help to those in your congregation

There is likely to be a requirement for emergency help in most churches and local communities due to the loss of income where jobs have been cut. For some people there may be support forthcoming when the Government schemes are up and running, but providing short-term financial help may be an entirely appropriate response for churches to adopt.

There is no one right way for churches to respond and what we have set out below is simply a suggestion. Each church will need to consider its own charitable purposes, financial position and needs of its congregation and – in light of those matters - its own response.

It may be helpful to gauge the needs of those in the congregation at regular intervals, perhaps by inviting people to let one of the church leaders know if they are struggling financially, so that the church can calibrate its response accordingly. This may also make it easier to invite members of the church to contribute to a ‘hardship fund’ or to provide support for each other in other ways.

Specific financial appeals tend to require the establishment of a restricted fund. Introducing a broader secondary purpose to an appeal should mean that money donated for a ‘hardship fund’ will not be unnecessarily tied up in the event that more is donated than is distributed.  See our briefing paper Financial Appeals for more about how to organise an appeal and avoid this unwanted outcome.

Financial help may take the form of:

  1. Small money grants;
  2. Gifts in kind (e.g. food parcels/weekly shop)
  3. Money loans.
  4. Pastoral support (e.g. if the biggest issue is rental payments and the applicant needs support in conversations with their landlord).
  5. A combination of the above.

Since this is such a fast moving situation, churches should anticipate the needs of the congregation for the next 30 days (although potentially up to 90 days in exceptional cases).

Criteria 

  • Timetable: The main criteria is that an individual has an immediate need and their resources are insufficient to meet that need. Also allow for immediate (or foreseeable in the next 30 days) living expenses.
  • Applicant: The applicant should be someone who is known to the church and can be personally vouched for. The amounts of funding are expected to be individually small and prioritisation, speed and security is important.

    Assessing need and validity may not be straightforward and it may be useful to draw up some broad guidelines. Limiting aid to applications made by a member (or known person) of the church, and confirmed by the leaders is an effective and safe mechanism proportionate to the amounts being given out.

    In exceptional circumstances, a church leader or Trustee can approve a small payment to someone who is not previously known and now presenting themselves to the church, where the balance of evidence suggests their need is valid and immediate. In these circumstances a gift in kind such as a food parcel may be more appropriate.

  • Amount

    Small (and if appropriate, ongoing) payments are preferred to large one-off payments. This is because of the fast-changing nature of government support and the needs of the situation. 

    We would normally anticipate payments of between £100 and £250 per applicant to be approved by an unconnected member of your ministry team (pastor/elder etc.) or trustee.  Where larger amounts are considered appropriate, these need to be supported by at least two unconnected members of your ministry team/trustees. “Unconnected” means not connected to either the applicant or each other.

    A church should impose a maximum single payment limit of perhaps £500 or £1,000 and regularly review cumulative smaller amounts. The church should also consider a cumulative maximum of e.g. £5,000.

    If the church is giving a loan, there should be some written record of what has been agreed with the borrower in terms of repayments. The record should be sent to the borrower and agreed by them in writing (e.g. by email) before the loan funds are paid across.

    Gifts or loans to trustees of any significant amount (certainly above £1,000 in total) may need to be authorised by the Charity Commission if the church’s governing documents don’t expressly provide for this kind of scenario.

 


 

And finally...

It is important for churches to keep their finances under review whilst remembering that we should be beacons of hope and generosity.  Difficult times require a flexible and thought-through response.

Remember again the Macedonian churches; “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Cor 8:2 NIV)