COVID-19 Charities Fund - FAQs

15 Dec 2020 Lynn Kennedy    Last updated: 15 Jan 2021

NICVA's constantly updated resource giving the answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the COVID-19 Charities Fund.
Charities Fund FAQs image

The COVID-19 Charities Fund is now open for applications until 22 January 2021 at 4pm. You can find the application pack and guidance notes on the Community Finance Ireland website.

We would encourage you to read the FAQs below before applying. NICVA is providing advice and guidance for applicants and you can access support here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Contents

1. What is the COVID-19 Charities Fund?

Community Finance Ireland (CFI) is distributing the COVID-19 Charities Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Department for Communities. 

The £11.7m COVID-19 Charities Fund will provide grants to meet unavoidable costs for charities that have exhausted all other avenues of support and are facing imminent closure.

It will provide financial support to charities who:

  • Have lost income due to the impact of COVID-19 and
  • Are unable to cover unavoidable costs until March 30th 2021.

The fund is limited. They will only be able to provide funding for costs that are unavoidable, so it is important to think about what you can do or have already done to reduce your expenditure. 

They will not be able to fund new programme activity or costs associated with on-going activity that could be suspended. 

If demand is high, priority will be given to those charities that communities rely on the most to deliver essential services and to ensuring equitable distribution.

2. Who can apply?

Eligible Charities:

Charities must:

  1. Have been established prior to 31 March 2020 and is a lawfully operating charity as defined by the Charities Act (NI) 2008.
  2. Have at least two unrelated people on its board or committee.
  3. Have a UK bank or building society account in the legal name of the charity with at least two unrelated people who can manage the account.
  4. Be financially stable prior to the impact of COVID-19.
  5. Be able to demonstrate that fundraising or trading income has reduced due to the impact of COVID-19 and is unable to meet unavoidable costs up to 31/03/2021.
  6. Have unavoidable costs that cannot be covered by existing grants or public funding

3. Who won’t be able to apply?

The following are ineligible:

  • Community Amateur Sports Club
  • Community Interest Company
  • Non charitable social enterprise
  • Non charitable trading arm

Your charity is not eligible if it:

  • Was formed after 31 March 2020
  • Submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) after 31 March 2020
  • Was called forward by Commission for registration but failed to apply
  • Was called forward by Commission for registration but your application was withdrawn and you never reapplied when invited to do so
  • Was called forward by Commission for registration but your application was rejected and you never reapplied when invited to do so
  • Has informed the Commission for Northern Ireland that you have or are about to close.
  • Has never informed the Commission of its existence.

4. What is the deadline for applications?

The COVID-19 Charities Fund will be open for receipt of applications on 6 January 2021 and close at 5 pm on 22 January 2021.

5. How do I apply?

Visit the Community Finance Ireland website where you can access the online application form, guidance notes and supporting documents. Use the eligibility check at the start of the application to help you find out whether you are eligible to apply.

If you are eligible you can continue completing the application form and submit the required documentation to support your application.

6. Can I re-apply if I received a Covid-19 Charity Fund award or been unsuccessful?

Yes you can apply.  If you have already received a grant through the COVID-19 Charities Fund this funding considers a different period. The earlier funding phase took account of unavoidable costs up to 30 September 2020, whereas this phase assesses financial need for the period from 1 October 2020 to 31 March 2021.

If you have been previously been refused funding, it depends the reason for rejection, but we would encourage everyone to apply.

7. How long will this funding last?

This funding will be distributed as a one-off payment and is intended to cover a shortfall of unavoidable costs from 1st October 2020 to 31st March 2021. 

8. I have applied for another COVID-19 non-repayable government grant but I do not know if the application has been successful, can I still apply to this Fund?

You can apply to two government grant programmes at the same time.  However, you should inform the Department for Communities if you receive an award after you have applied to the Covid-19 Charities Fund and before an award is made [email protected].

9. Can I apply if I’m in receipt of other funding or others forms of support?

Yes, any other forms of financial support should be declared in your application for funding and will be taken into account when determining the amount of any award.  If your charity receives a significant amount of regular public sector funding you will have to explain why this is insufficient to keep it going in the immediate term.

10. What do I need to send to show that my charity is in financial difficulty?

You will be asked to provide some evidence to support your application including a copy of your latest bank statement, most recent annual/draft accounts and you’ll need to complete a financial overview template giving us some detail of how your income and expenditure has been affected by the impact of COVID-19.

11. I have received an award recently from the Social Enterprise Fund, can I apply to the Covid-19 Charities Fund Phase II?

Yes, social enterprises can apply as long as they are a local charity and meet the eligibility criteria. Funding that you were given should be declared and will be taken into account to determine the amount of any award.

12. Can a faith based charity apply?

Yes, faith based charities can apply as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.

13. How will you decide who should receive funding?

This funding is aimed at charities who have found themselves in financial difficulties, having exhausted all other avenues of support including internal reserves, other measures such as the Job Retention Scheme and all available hardship funds.

It is vital that this scheme supports and prioritises those charities who can no longer find a way to sustain their services.  The assessment will focus on answering:

  • What is the minimum amount of funding that is needed to cover unavoidable costs until 31st March 2021?
  • The extent to which the charity has put in place credible measures to adapt their services and mitigate the loss of income
  • The extent to which the community relies on the charity to deliver essential services.

14. How will they prioritise those charities that will receive funding when there is a limited amount available?

  • In the first instance, charities will be prioritised based on the extent and urgency of their financial need.
  • After this has been ascertained, the following further criteria will be used to prioritise funding recipients:

Impact

  • How essential the service is to its users in their lives
  • The extent to which the support the charity provides is available elsewhere.
  • The extent of the challenge and impact that would be created if the service closed and had to be re-established after the current situation.

Activity

They will make particular consideration of the extent to which charities:

  • Support people in times of personal crisis and vulnerability, including where these have increased through the impacts of COVID-19:
    • Those suffering poverty (whether that be in terms of finance, lack of key resources such as work or housing, or access to services such as health or education) or
    • Those vulnerable through infirmity, health conditions or circumstance or
    • Those who are experiencing or have experienced violence, hate, abuse or exploitation 
  • Enable communities to be more resilient, supportive and connected
    • Those which work to improve connections and understanding between communities or
    • Those which support people who are marginalised or
    • Those who work to reduce loneliness, isolation and improve wellbeing or
    • Those which support local community activity, including volunteering, and community organising or
    • Those who support community and sector infrastructure.

15. Will all charities receive the same amount of funding?

No, funding levels will be based on a proportionate assessment of a charity’s short-term financial need. An award will be made for the amount of money required to cover unavoidable costs and prevent short term closure, which will vary in each situation.

16. What is the maximum amount of funding a charity can receive under this scheme?

To ensure a broad distribution of the funds available, the maximum level of grant under this scheme will be £75,000. However, awards will be made for the amount of money required to cover unavoidable costs up to 31st March 2021, which will vary in each situation.

17. If I’m successful, how long will it take to receive the funding?

They anticipate that applications will be assessed and decisions made within 6 weeks of the Fund’s closing date of 22 January 2021.  If you receive a letter of offer, it is important that this is signed and returned within a few days. 

18. If my charity is still facing financial difficulty after funding has been used, can I access further support?

Right now they are working to respond to financial need up to the end of March 2021.  Any longer term needs beyond from April 2021 cannot be considered by this Fund. 

19. What is the maximum amount of funding an organisation can receive under this scheme?

The maximum award is £75,000.

20. What are they doing for those who are not eligible for any of this funding?

This fund is aimed at providing financial support to charities impacted by the coronavirus.  The Executive has agreed the criteria for the scheme. There are limited funds available and as with all Executive support in this very difficult time, hard decisions have had to be made.

21. Will Community Finance Ireland contact me to discuss my application with me?

No, Community Finance Ireland has extensive expertise in understanding and dealing with the charities sector.  It is vital that you provide full details and supporting documentation with your applications.  Failure to do so will mean that your application will be rejected. 

22. Can I get more advice and help to complete my application?

The Department has made arrangement for charities to be provided with necessary assistance to ensure they complete their applications for funding in a comprehensive and timely way. 

NICVA (The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action) is coordinating the advice and support to charities across the province and will provide ongoing independent advice and support for applicants on what is required and the application process until the closing date of 22 January

You can complete a support form here with your query or to request a call back  

23. Are funds allocated on a first come first served bases or will CFI wait until the closing date has expired before assessing application?

They won’t be allocated on a first come first served basis, Community Finance Ireland (CFI) will wait and will judge all the applications after the closing date. 

24. Can I confirm that those charities that are registered as a charity in England and Wales but operate in NI are not eligible to apply

That is correct unless you are registered in NI as well and you are able to produce accounts that apply to your operation in NI.  It’s a criterion that was set by DFC so it‘s only those who were registered in NI or who were applicants for the register who were waiting to be called forward by the CCNI.

25. We are a company limited by guarantee and are currently waiting to be called by the Charity Commission. Are we eligible as we were in the first tranche?

 Yes.

26. Are furlough costs 20% something that can be claimed for?

This refers to the top-up cost that organisations may have met. If it is something that is unavoidable then that is something that may be considered. 

27. Is there a reasonable amount that a charity would be expected to contribute to the deficit?

This refers to a charity’s reserves policy.  There is no desire to obliterate organisations’ reserves so there will be consideration given to maintaining adequate reserves to ensure future viability.  Under charity law organisations should only have a reserves policy commensurate to their need.  They shouldn’t carry more reserves than they need and that’s based on what the costs might be to them in terms of winddown and in some organisations they will have operating costs of three months or six months with regard to their reserves. Government fully recognises, as does the Charity Commission the importance of having these reserves to stabilise organisations. There is no defined set amount. Trustees do need to be able to justify their reserves policy.

28. Not having lost fundraising but having an increase in providing the services, would this be covered?

It’s about if you have unavoidable costs to deliver your services not previously covered by other sources.

29. In the first phase of funding, we applied and only requested the basic overhead running costs rather than loss of income, is it possible to list the lost income for the first half of the year also or is it strictly 1 October to 31 March?

That depends on the overall budget for the entire year because it depends on when that fundraising income was to be realised and if it was for the overall year and how your budgets are set.  You would need to examine the overall financial position for the year.  It’s accepted both by government and obviously CFI that income doesn’t come in evenly across the year. 

30. Is there an appeals process?

There is not an appeals process but there will be clarification on why you have not met either the eligibility criteria or received funding There is a process to further check and make sure that a decision was right.  There is an internal process that involves some people in CFI who will not be directly involved, and they will check and make sure that a proper decision was made, but there is no appeal process.

32. Can reserves policies be updated/created by a charity prior to the fund opening?

 They can’t be updated.  They must have been in place prior to March 2020.  Some small organisations we believe might not have a reserves policy although it’s generally required of charities and I think if that’s the case, I think CFI will probably make an assessment in terms of their accounts or maybe what cash they see in terms of what they think is reasonable.

33. If you have a deficit in income that affects necessary expenditure that permits you to operated post March 2021, is this eligible?

The allocation of funds to the Department for this was allocated for the financial year, so it’s about the current financial year that we’re in.  The dormant accounts fund is developmental, it’s about looking forward, it’s not related to this particular crisis, but it might be something that organisations will find very useful in the next financial year.  The other thing is that it’s multi-annual, so it’ll run over a three-year period and it’s possible to make the applications there.

34. An organisation has been trading for three years but only got recognised charitable status during the summer.  Can they still apply?

 It depends on how long you’ve been operating as a charity, not necessarily that you have received registration.  If you’ve been on the Charity Commission’s list prior to March 2020, you will be eligible

35.  If the management accounts submitted with the application in January show a surplus or break-even position but your cash flow shows a predicted deficit at the end of March, will they take the predicted deficit?

 It is about what is the impact on your income up to the end of March 2021.  So, is there a deficit or is there likely to be a deficit which has been impacted by Covid. Everybody recognises that the picture has changed for organisations as we moved through the year and we were all making predictions as to when we thought income might come back on stream.  Showing what original budgets were, showing how things are now is very much part of this process of applying for funds.

36. A charity registered in England, operating in NI, with separate management accounts but not separate charity registration.  Would they be eligible?

 They have to be on that list, at this point we’ve been told that unless they’re on that list they’re not eligible. 

37. If a charity was successful or unsuccessful in the first fund, does this mean that the charity would have more or less or about the same chances of being successful this time given income and expenses are similar in both six-month periods?

This depends on why the charity was turned down in the first instance.  So, if you were ineligible then it’s unlikely that you will become eligible.  If you cannot show a Covid effect on your finances, then it is unlikely that you would receive funds.  All the applications will be judged on their own merits so obviously some applicants will have gone to the first round and been successful - they will be eligible to apply in the second. Others will not have applied first time round and will apply and I believe they will all be judged on the merits of their application.

38. To run services we need to put in place a Covid safe environment so this work would become an expense.  Can we put this work needed in as a loss on our financial losses? 

It depends on if there are losses associated with that, but it is an unavoidable expense if you have additional resources to spend to enable you to run your services, but it is very clearly around showing a deficit in the accounts so again it will depend on what that looks like.

39. How soon after 22 January will decisions be made?

The fund closes on 22nd January, there will then be a six week assessment period with Letters of Offer issued as soon as possible. It is very important that all Letters of Offer are formally accepted as soon as possible to enable grant release at the earliest date, normally within seven days of Offer acceptance.

40. If a church or faith-based organisation is eligible would the church be able to include groups attached to the congregation?  There might be other groups like girls’ and boys’ brigades etc.

The key thing is it focuses on whoever the legal entity is.  If they are stand-alone, have separate charitable status then the application will have to come from them directly.

41. What about organisations’ whose financial year runs January to December rather than April to March? 

As long as you can show an impact within the period which is Covid related then you’ll submit your own accounts according to that which will demonstrate any deficit.  They will want to see organisations’ last set of approved accounts subsequent draft accounts and 2020/21 budget projections. 

42. How do you define unavoidable costs e.g., the organisation would have had salary costs because they had to keep going, their services were essential during the time so therefore they didn’t furlough but they would have had subscriptions etc. 

Unavoidable costs are part of the process so if people haven’t been able to furlough and you’re delivering your services, but you haven’t been able to secure the resources to be able to do that and continue to provide that then yes that’ll be covered. It’s back to how you can show a financial loss within the year.

43. Are essential services defined?

It is up to you to define who your beneficiaries are.  If you’re a charity then you would have covered this in your governing documents – who are your beneficiaries, so use that as your guideline as to who would be impacted by the loss of your services.

44. Are receipts and payments OK?

If you’re a small organisation it’s unlikely you’ll have a full set of accounts so receipts and payments will be fine.  The key point to note around the financial information is the losses.  So, what would you have expected to be your income during the year and what have you lost? 

45. You had a significant deficit in your last accounts, the first in some years, but planned and managed due to review, but a small predicted deficit this year, how would that be viewed?

It would really depend on how that is articulated. One of the eligibility criteria is that you were not in serious financial difficulty prior to Covd-19, so that will totally depend on how you answer those questions and if you can show a reasonable answer around the significant deficit in the previous accounts.

46. What would happen if you received unexpected income after having been successful?

You will be asked to tell CFI what you are actually applying for on applications you have in.  If you are applying for other things you cannot know whether you will be successful or not.  So, you give them the truthful information with regard to your financial situation as it exists at the time you make the application.

47. What is the list that is being referred to?

 The list is the Charity Commission’s ‘Combined List’.  There are about 8,000 organisations on the Charity Commission’s list, it’s on the Charity Commission’s website. it includes those on what was called the ‘Deemed List’ which came from HMRC.  This was the Northern Ireland Organisations with charitable status granted by HMRC prior to the creation of the CCNI.  Also those who had applied since and were waiting to be called forward.  So it includes those who had not yet been approved as charities but had submitted an application as they had been required to.   

48. Can I use my driving licence to cover both proof of ID and proof of address?

No.  You cannot use your driving licence to cover both proof of ID and proof of address. You can use your driving licence for one or other, but not both.  The guidelines state that for Anti-Money Laundering documentation you need A) Copy proof of ID (e.g. Passport, Electoral Card or Driver’s License) AND B) Copy proof of address (e.g. utility bill, personal bank statement or Driver’s License) for two company directors/trustees)

49. Does the organisation need to submit bank statements for all accounts held by the charity?

The request for a bank statement is to check the organisation details against anti-money laundering details.  The bank statement submitted should be for the same account as the grant funding will be paid into.

50. Is there a way to print out Part A to see all the questions at once?

Yes.  You can download Part A in a pdf format at the following link - https://communityfinanceireland.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/CHARITY-F...

To see Part A in a word Document email us.

51. Do I need to complete the State Aid Form?  If so, how do I know if I had De Minimis funding?

Applicants are required to complete the State Aid Form if they answer YES to both of the State Aid questions (Q58 & Q59) regarding the provision of goods and services in the application form.  The De Minimis threshold is E200,000.

Relevant funders (and most likely the relevant Letter of Offer) can confirm if funding is classified as De Minimis or otherwise.

You can tell if it is De Minimus funding if your letter of offer shows that -

A) The grant is made under the De Minimis ruling, e.g. –

e.g. Please note that this is a De Minimis offer letter for the value of the aid granted under this scheme.

The support being provided is De minimis aid under EC Regulation 1407/2013 (De Minimis Aid Regulation) as published in the Official Journal of the European Union 24 December 2013. There is a ceiling of €200,000 (€100,000 for undertakings in the road freight transport sector) for all De minimis aid provided to any one organisation over a three fiscal year period (i.e. your current fiscal year and previous two fiscal years). You must declare this amount if asked in the future to any other aid awarding body. For the purposes of the De minimis regulation, you must retain this letter for 10 years from the date on which the aid is granted and produce it on request by the UK public authorities or the European Commission.

or B) via the ‘Temporary Framework;

e.g. As you have indicated this grant is likely to represent State Aid, and you have reached, or will reach by the award of this grant, the De Minimis ceiling, this grant is being made under the UK’s COVID-19 Temporary Framework. In addition to this letter of offer please read the guidance and complete the declaration at Annex A.

52. Can the ID docs be submitted as a pdf document or do they have to be attached as .jpgs? 

ID documents can be submitted in pdf or jpeg format

53. For the documents which need to be attached & sent by email - do they need to be in pdf or word format?

Attached documents can be either in pdf or word format.

54. I only have signed accounts y/e December 2019.  Are these acceptable?

Accounts y/e December 2019 are acceptable.  All latest audited accounts are acceptable and must be submitted.  Unsigned accounts will only be considered if the latest signed copies are also provided.

55. Must I submit management accounts and what form do they need to be in?

The grant application includes self-certified information. Management accounts must be submitted. In some cases, these can be basic income/expenditure figures on a basic excel spreadsheet or a basic word document.

56. I have nearly completed Part A but am not quite ready to submit.  If I close my computer can I start again? 

No. Application Form Part A can only be completed in one sitting, it cannot be saved and revisited.

57. With lockdown we can’t get signatures and don’t have a scanner, can we type the names instead of using signatures?

Typed names will be accepted, although it is important that they receive photo ID and Proof of Address for Two Signatories/Trustees etc.

Application support from NICVA

You an watch a recording of NICVA's information webinar which was held on Wednesday 16th December at 2.30pm.

NICVA are running weekly Charities Fund Q&A sessions on Zoom for you to ask any further questions you have.  The dates are listed below - please just click on the link to register:

Requests for advice can also be made using the Advice / Call Back request form or by phoning 028 9087 7777 and a staff member will set up an advice call.  NICVA will continue to provide on-going independent advice for applicants from now to the application process closes on 22 January 2021.

lynn.kennedy@nicva.org's picture
by Lynn Kennedy

Fundraising Advice Officer

[email protected]