Letter from Northern Ireland's Chief Charity Commissioner

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis the Chief Commissioner of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, Nicole Lappin, has written a letter to all charity trustees. The letter outlines the Commission’s gratitude to the sector, especially those that are ensuring charity assets are looked after and adapting their services in the current crisis. The letter also highlights the Commission’s COVID-19 guidance that has been produced to help charities during this period.

In just over 100 days the world has changed. In December last year, no one could have imagined what was on the way. Just as, right now, many may be finding it difficult to imagine how the charity they are involved with – be that as a trustee, staff member, volunteer or service user – will deal with the impacts of COVID-19, both at the human and corporate level.

This global health emergency has created great uncertainty for everyone, charities included. We recognise that charities are playing a crucial role in addressing the consequences of the pandemic, from bringing food and medicine to those in isolation, to making much needed equipment for the NHS, as well as providing many other vital services. Well-run charities have never been more needed than they are now. And yet charities, like many other organisations, are operating in an extremely tough environment that brings with it many unavoidable pressures.

Speaking on behalf of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, I want to thank you all – from the trustees who are working collectively and tirelessly to ensure charity assets are looked after, to the staff and volunteers at the frontline, delivering vital services to those most in need and, of course, to those who are doing their bit by staying in, protecting all of us, our families and our community. I believe that together we will get through this.  

To support you, we have been listening to your concerns, your queries and your needs. We recognise that COVID-19 is already impacting on the charity sector and that, sadly, some charities may not continue as a result of it. Where we can help, we will, and the first step in that process is through the issuing of guidance for charities, and the public.

Our comprehensive COVID-19 guidance aims to answer as many queries from charities as we can, guiding and supporting you where possible, as well as providing advice to the public on how they can safely assist charities at this time. It includes guidance on where your charity might access emergency funding, how you might change your purposes to provide assistance as well as queries around using reserves or restricted funds to see you through.

We have also included signposting and advice on issues of particular relevance at this time, such as avoiding scams, giving safely to charity and volunteering, amongst other vital areas. For example, now more than ever it is critical that charities protect and safeguard their beneficiaries, volunteers and staff.

This is an unprecedented situation and we do not yet have all the answers, but as the situation develops we will continue to research and provide guidance on the areas you want to know about.

I can also assure you that we, too, have adapted our own working practices to protect service users and staff, while continuing to serve the public and the charity sector. We are continuing to process your requests, queries and concerns and, while there may be some delays, we are operating as close to normal as possible. 

On behalf of all in the Commission I would like to end by again paying tribute to everyone working across the charity sector for the services and support you are providing. The difference you make will have a positive impact right across our community. Stay safe, and know that what you are doing is greatly appreciated at this time of need.

Nicole Lappin, Chief Charity Commissioner