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Charities are facing challenging circumstances, with falling financial support from the Government and falling regular donations as a result of the squeeze on people’s spending. This is a tough environment for any charity to work in. Furthermore, the reliance on the charitable and voluntary sector is increasing, as we are seeing from the number of food banks that are springing up and the greater reliance on homelessness services.
We owe it to charities to help them out when we can, and I must admit that the Chancellor’s announcement of these proposals was one of the few parts of the Budget that I welcomed. Now that we have had a chance to look at the details, however, we see that there are still some outstanding issues. We will of course support the Bill on Third Reading, but I still have concerns about accessibility for many of the charities that could benefit most from it.
Offering charities the chance to take advantage of a gift aid top-up is of course welcome. My constituency is facing a number of serious challenges, but we are fortunate to have a thriving charitable and voluntary sector that does much good work throughout the area. I am thinking of the small charities run by a handful of local volunteers, such Home from Home in Dumbarton, and the Clydebank Asbestos Group, which has a very wide reach but relies on a small team of dedicated volunteers, as well as the slightly larger ones with some staff, such as Y Sort-It in Clydebank. They all contribute so much, working alongside the services offered by the local authorities to help with a range of issues.
As I am sure other Members will recognise, it is often many of the smaller charities which are getting by on tiny incomes that help so much with the provision of local services. Many of them do not have steady income streams or the time and manpower—or, often, the womanpower—to administer complex donation rules. They rely on simple methods of fundraising, such as bring-and-buy sales and collecting donations in buckets on the street. Those small activities all add up.
I am sure that, like me, many of those smaller charities will be pleased with the effect that the proposals could have on their incomes. They remain concerned, however, about the restrictions that could make them ineligible. The Government need to ensure that the rules will work for charities and not against them. As my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson has comprehensively set out, we need the Bill to help charities out, not to add to the burden of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy can be a headache for small charities. Compliance with the rules is essential—they are there for a reason—but they can pose real difficulties, particularly for the smaller charities. A Treasury spokesperson said the Government’s proposals were intended to reduce the administrative burden on charities, but I am not sure that that is what they will do. It is possible that the bigger charities, not the smaller ones, will benefit.
The Government’s amendments are helpful; they are heading in the right direction. The original proposals could have resulted in the smallest charities losing out the most, because placing so many conditions on the new top-up would have made it difficult for those charities to take advantage of the scheme. I am pleased that the Government seem to have recognised the problem with the three-year criterion, and that they are moving towards a two-year period instead. That will widen the benefits to include more charities. However, the proposals will still favour the larger charities that have a history of gift aid claims over the smaller ones that rely on bucket donations.
Similarly, the Government’s amendments do not properly reflect the needs of newly established charities, which will naturally not have any history of gift aid claims. Dr Whiteford said that her amendment would acknowledge the fact that, although many charities are proactive in their work, there are those that react to events. A charity might be set up to react to a natural disaster, for example; another might be set up in memory of a loved one. Newly established charities often receive a significant proportion of their donations at the very beginning, and their donations might subsequently tail off. Under the current proposals, they would not be able to claim top-up payments related to those important initial donations.
Our amendments are intended to help those small and new charities by removing the lengthy start-up period and replacing it with a probationary period. That would provide a real benefit. It would allow all charities without a claims history, whether new or established, to benefit from the top-up scheme while keeping the protections in place. It is important to have protections against fraud, but I believe that our proposed probationary period would be sufficient in that regard. I therefore encourage Members to support our amendments.
We need to ensure that we get the scheme right. The Government’s own “Giving” White Paper, published last year, made it clear that they wanted to work more with business and charities to make it “easier and more compelling” for people to give time and money, and so make the change that they want to see. Our amendments would make it much easier for the Government to meet their aims.
New clauses 1 and 2 would ensure a proper review of the impact of the measures on access to the scheme. The charity and voluntary sector deserves to have the rules properly reviewed, with a report being laid before Parliament so that all Members can see how accessible the scheme is. I hope that, in the spirit of openness and transparency that the Government say they are in favour of, all Members will consider supporting the new clauses.
The simple principle of giving charities the extra bit of help that is contained in the Bill is very much welcome, but the proposals could and should go further. As the Bill stands, thousands of small charities could lose out. Our amendments would take a few steps towards giving charities that extra support, and I hope that Members will support them.