I beg to move amendment 1, page 2, leave out lines 1 to 6 and insert—
“(a) in the heading after “small”, delete “cash payment” and insert “donation”;
(b) in sub-paragraph (1) omit the words “in cash”;
(c) after that sub-paragraph insert—
“(1A) The gift must be made—
(b) by cheque;
(c) by electronic communication; or
(d) by a contactless payment.”
(d) in sub-paragraph (3) after the definition of “cash” insert—
“cheque” means a written order instructing a bank to pay upon its presentation to the person designated in it, or the to the person possessing it, a certain sum of money from the account of the person who draws it; “electronic communication” means a payment made via the internet or text message.”
This amendment would extend the range of methods by which payments can be made under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
(c) by a comparable method prescribed by the Treasury by regulations.”
This amendment would give the Treasury a power to prescribe by regulations other methods of payment comparable to contactless payment in the future.
Opposition amendments 1 and 2 relate to the types of payment eligible for the gift aid small donations scheme. Amendment 1 would extend the range of payment methods to include cheques and electronic communications—that is, texts. The Bill itself extends the methods to include contactless payments. Amendment 2 would give the Treasury powers to prescribe by regulations other methods of payment comparable to contactless payments in the future. I will keep my remarks on these two amendments relatively brief as we had an extensive debate of this issue in Committee, although I did not push it to a vote.
Currently, cash donations under £20 are considered eligible for the scheme. The Bill brings contactless payments into the scheme, and we support that measure. However, the charity sector has said that it would be more beneficial for other types of payment, particularly cheques, to be eligible as well. When this was discussed in Committee, the Minister said that amending the Bill in such a way was
“contrary to the stated policy intention of the scheme.”––[Official Report, Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Public Bill Committee,
I want to take this opportunity to disagree.
The intention of the scheme is to allow charities to get a gift aid-style top-up on donations made in situations where it is infeasible, but not impossible, to get a gift aid declaration. I would argue that donations made by text are a prime example of such a situation. The Minister has said that receiving gift aid declarations on donations via SMS is a straightforward process: the donor simply needs to reply to a follow-up text message giving their name and address and confirming that they are a taxpayer. It might be straightforward, but people tend to be wary of disclosing personal information. I certainly would not feel comfortable sending my address and other details to an unknown number.
Nigel Mills helpfully alerted us to paragraph 1.8 of the Treasury consultation “Gift Aid and Digital Giving”. I am sure that the Minister has had time to check it out, but I can remind her that the document states:
“Individual donations online or by text are often small. In these cases for the donor it may not seem worthwhile to go to the trouble of filling out a Gift Aid declaration for a small additional amount to go to the recipient charity.”
It is therefore clear that getting a gift aid declaration via text is not as straightforward as the Minister would have us believe.
Similar situations can arise with cheques, as detailed in Committee by my hon. Friend Anna Turley. Elderly people in particular often send cheques in the post, making it impossible for charities to track them down and get a gift aid declaration—it is probably not worth it if it is a small amount. Amendment 1 would simply allow such donations to be eligible for the scheme. I hope the Minister will offer some movement on this area as I simply cannot see the logic in saying that extending payments in that way would somehow encourage charities to move away from traditional gift aid claims.
Amendment 2 would allow the Treasury to make regulations to tweak the legislation to allow types of payments similar to contactless payment to come under the scope of the scheme. It was argued in Committee that technology is moving forward at an incredibly fast pace and that next year people might be using a new type of card or gadget to donate to charity. The Opposition are convinced by that line of reasoning and the amendment would simply give the Government the power to make changes to allow Oyster cards, for example, to come within the scope of the legislation without having to create a brand-new Bill. It is not often the Opposition’s desire to give the Government more powers, but it would be worthwhile in this scenario.
In conclusion, the Opposition strongly support the move to include contactless payment, but we do not see the logic in singling it out when the sector is saying that other payment methods would provide a greater boost to the scheme. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I will be pushing amendment 1 to a vote should she not see fit to accept it.
As we have just heard, amendment 1 would extend the gift aid small donations scheme to include donations made via cheque, online or SMS. Amendment 2 would give the Treasury the power to amend the Small Charitable Donations Act 2012 through secondary legislation to include other unspecified methods of payment in future. As the shadow Minister said, we debated this area in some detail both on Second Reading and in Committee, so I am afraid that I will be making many of the same points.
When I opened the Second Reading debate, I told the House that it is a Government priority to maximise the gift aid claimed by charities on eligible donations. It is worth reflecting on that because during the Bill’s passage through the House we have quite rightly focused on the gift aid small donations scheme, but the scheme—important though it is—forms just one part of the package of generous tax reliefs the Government use to support our charity sector. Gift aid was worth over £1.3 billion to the charity sector last year—a significant amount—but we want to see gift aid claimed on even more eligible donations, and we want charities to claim gift aid because it is a much more beneficial scheme and has many advantages for charities over the longer term. The shadow Minister said that she was not seeking to undermine gift aid, but it is worth reminding ourselves that it is the more beneficial scheme, so we want to encourage people to take it up.
One reason is that gift aid is not capped—relief can be claimed on individual donations worth hundreds or thousands of pounds. There is no annual limit—charities can claim on as many eligible donations as they are able to solicit. The act of obtaining a gift aid declaration provides charities with the opportunity to build a relationship with their donors, leading to a more sustainable and resilient funding stream.
We fully accept that there are situations in which, with the best will in the world, charity fundraisers cannot stop donors to ask them to complete a gift aid declaration. The gift aid small donations scheme is therefore intended to be used for those small, low-value, spur of the moment donations when contact between donor and charity is fleeting and it is not practical or feasible to solicit a gift aid declaration. Those will primarily be the small cash donations that the small donations scheme was originally designed to cover, but we also accept, following discussions with the sector, that this should also apply to contactless donations. However, the Government are not persuaded that this is the case with other methods of donations such as those made by text, online or by cheque, and I set out reasons for that on Second Reading and in Committee.
I have listened with interest to the arguments advanced by right hon. and hon. Members, including the shadow Minister, and I completely understand the points they are making. However, if the argument is that the process for claiming gift aid on electronic donations, such as those by SMS, is too onerous, that is a separate issue and the solution is not to try to shoehorn methods of donation into the gift aid small donations scheme which it was never intended to cover.
The Government completely agree that the process for claiming gift aid on SMS and online donations made through digital intermediaries should be simpler. We have discussed this issue in detail with the sector and have published several consultation documents. Indeed, my hon. Friend Nigel Mills made reference to one such document in Committee, and it has been referred to again today. I am pleased to tell him, the shadow Minister and other hon. Members that we have made progress on this issue. Primary legislation was included in the Finance Act 2015 and the Finance Act 2016, and draft regulations were published for technical consultation earlier this year. The Government intend to lay those regulations shortly, and they will simplify the process of gift aiding donations through digital intermediaries. Instead of completing a gift aid declaration for every donation made, donors will be able to sign a one-off authorisation allowing the intermediary to create gift aid declarations and claim gift aid on the donor’s behalf for all subsequent donations made in that tax year.
I was about to rise to congratulate the Minister, as this seems like a really good initiative, but why apply this for only just that tax year? Given that someone is able to donate to an organisation and do it within a tax year, why not roll this over into future tax years to extend this provision? Perhaps I am being uncharitable to her, as this is a good provision, but it could be even better.
I strongly suspect that there are technical reasons why that would be difficult, but I am happy to take my hon. Friend’s suggestion away, look at it and respond properly to him. In the spirit of simplification, he seeks to make it ever easier to make these donations. As a result of the way Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs operates—within tax years—I could foresee difficulties with this approach, but I will look at it and write to him with a bit more detail.
There are more things we can do to make things easier for charities, and the Government are constantly looking at ways of achieving that—we have just heard another suggestion from my hon. Friend. I am pleased to tell the House that we have a very good track record of simplifying gift aid processes for charities. For example, in 2013 we introduced Charities Online to help charities to claim gift aid even faster, and 95% of charities now use this service. Instead of having to fill in paper forms and post them back to HMRC, charities can claim their repayments online and have them paid directly into their bank account. Under the old paper system it could take up to three working weeks for charities to receive their repayments, whereas most claims are now paid within five working days. I am sure hon. Members would agree that that is a welcome boost for charities. Just last year, HMRC introduced a new, shorter model gift aid declaration to make it easier for donors to understand their obligations under the scheme, and it worked in close collaboration with the Charity Retail Association to simplify and clarify the Government’s guidance on the retail gift aid scheme. Earlier this summer, the Treasury published a consultation exploring ways of simplifying the gift aid donor benefits rules, and we looked carefully at the responses received before publishing a response.
Of course, we will keep looking for ways to simplify and improve gift aid, but these are questions about the wider gift aid scheme, not the gift aid small donations scheme. My hon. Friend might be pleased to note that one reason I foresaw difficulties with his proposal is that people’s tax status can change from year to year—for example, when they move from work into retirement—and this would make things difficult. I hope that that response is helpful, but I will follow up with him in more detail.
Amendment 2 would grant the Treasury the power to amend the Small Charitable Donations Act 2012 in the future in the event that new donation technology develops. Members who were present at the original Bill discussion reminded us in Committee that they had made points about future-proofing the scheme in terms of technology at that time. My hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones are nodding. It is an interesting point, which we have debated.
The Government have consulted fully on the changes to the scheme, and as part of the consultation that we have just undertaken, the extensive nature of which I outlined earlier, HMRC officials went out and met with charities and other groups to discuss contactless donations and other technological developments. They considered methods of donation that are not currently in use but might be in the pipeline. I understand that there was no suggestion from the stakeholders that there are other imminent technological developments in the pipeline that would be suitable for the small donations scheme. In any event, we have deliberately drafted the definition of “contactless payment” quite widely.
As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley in Committee, the definition in the Bill would cover donations from, for example, Oyster cards, as the shadow Minister mentioned, or other smart cards. It would also cover new payment services similar to Apple Pay and Android Pay. We believe that the definition in the Bill is sufficient to cover most of the technological developments that we are likely to see in the reasonably foreseeable future.
My hon. Friend will not be surprised that I expressed some degree of sympathy with amendment 2, given that I raised some of these points. I am reassured about the extension of contactless payments, particularly to Oyster cards, as was mentioned from the Opposition Front Bench. However, I do not support the amendment because of its wording. It refers to “comparable method”. The shadow Minister used the word “similar”, and my hon. Friend the Minister used the term “unspecified”. That is all unclear. There will be further technological changes and we will probably look back and say, “Wasn’t there a formulation that we could have used to include this new technology?” The wording of the amendment is not satisfactory and unfortunately I cannot offer a suggestion to improve it.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Learning, perhaps, from the time when the predecessor Bill was before the House, we have tried to look ahead, consult widely, and future-proof this Bill against forms of payment that are not yet widely used. It is sensible to try to provide a definition of those, rather than leaving the Bill overly vague. We have done a sound job of future-proofing the Bill as much as is reasonably possible.
I fully accept that at some future stage, perhaps some years from now, a new donation method could be developed which would not be covered by the current definition. We cannot know whether that future method might have implications for other parts of the Bill. That is why I am nervous about writing a woolly definition into the Bill. If and when there is a new donation method not foreseen or covered by the Bill, it is important that the Government come before the House with primary legislation, explain their decision and allow Parliament to scrutinise the proposed changes properly. As this Bill has proceeded relatively uncontroversially through the House, it would be hard to argue that the scrutiny of it and the attention that it has allowed us to focus on the scheme and on gift aid more widely have not been a good thing. The Bill demonstrates that we keep matters under review and that, when there is a case for change, we come back before Parliament and engage in a full and proper debate.
Gift aid is hugely beneficial for charities and we want as many charities as possible to benefit from gift aid on the eligible donations that they receive. I have given an undertaking that the Treasury will work with the Minister for civil society to publicise the charities day on
This Bill will improve the gift aid small donations scheme. Separately the Government are taking action to improve the wider scheme, and I hope that that action will address a number of the concerns raised in the debate by hon. Members. The small donations scheme is not the right vehicle to bring about the changes that have been suggested and that the shadow Minister is seeking. I hope that, having heard these reassurances, she will withdraw her amendments.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 248, Noes 279.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It is a pleasure to move the Bill’s Third Reading. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the time to scrutinise and engage with the Bill so constructively during its passage through this House. It is a short and technical Bill, but it is nevertheless important and it delivers real benefits to our vibrant charity sector and for working families.
I am very pleased that during its passage through this House, the Bill has received broad cross-party support and provided an opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to highlight and champion the wonderful work that local charities do right across the country. On Second Reading, we heard from Kirsty Blackman about the volunteers in her constituency shovelling snow to keep the pavements clear in winter. My hon. Friend James Duddridge spoke of the work done by a charity in his constituency to help people living with HIV/AIDS. We heard about the work of animal welfare charities, including Waggy Tails Rescue in Mid Dorset and North Poole, and of course I took the opportunity to mention Battersea Dogs and Cats home in my constituency.
It is not just charities that will benefit from the reforms to the gift aid small donations scheme. As several hon. Members pointed out, community amateur sports clubs will also be able to access top-up payments sooner, and we heard examples of local sports clubs in Taunton Deane, Chippenham and Congleton that could benefit. The small donations scheme is a good thing for charities. It allows them to claim a gift aid-style top-up payment of 25p in the pound when it is not practical or feasible to obtain a gift aid declaration from a donor.
The Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill will make it even easier for charities to access those top-up payments by removing entirely two of the existing eligibility criteria. The Bill will also simplify and clarify the rules, ensuring that the scheme remains fair and delivers broad parity of treatment for charities structured in different ways. We are reforming the community buildings rules to make the scheme much more generous for local charities that operate out of community buildings. I sought to reassure the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rebecca Long Bailey about organisations such as Scouts and Guides by confirming the eligibility in their case. In Committee and again on Report the Opposition Front-Bench team tabled probing amendments on that point and others, and we have had a couple of thorough debates. I reiterate what I said earlier to the House: a scout hut is an eligible community building, so scouts and other uniformed groups will benefit from the changes in the Bill. I hope that all Members here will join me in supporting this enabling reform. We have heard from some Members about their yesteryears in the scouts, and anything that helps scouts to continue with “bob a job” and all their other community fundraising schemes can only be a good thing.
We are also taking action through this Bill to future-proof the gift aid small donations scheme by extending eligibility to contactless donations, so that charities can continue to benefit from the scheme for many years to come. The message that the Bill sends is clear: the Government want a strong, vibrant and resilient charity sector and we will do all we can to support it through the tax system.
In addition to celebrating the work of our charities and sports clubs, the Bill’s passage through the House provoked an important wider debate about the threats that the sector faces, and particularly the importance of a robust regulatory regime to protect the reputation of charities from the dishonest minority who seek to abuse charitable status. It is not necessarily a pleasant issue to have to contemplate, but we have had an important debate. It is good that we are continually pushed to think about how we can protect our charities further. The sector is one of our great assets. It is very important, and we need to do all we can to protect it. I have argued consistently that the Bill strikes the right balance between simplifying the gift aid small donations scheme, making it easier for charities to claim top-up payments and protecting the Exchequer from abuse and charities from reputational damage.
During the Bill’s passage through this House, hon. and right hon. Members have expressed some concern about take-up of the gift aid small donations scheme. As my hon. Friend Mr Wilson, the civil society Minister, told the House on Second Reading, last year 21,300 charities benefited from the small donations scheme, claiming a total of £26 million of Government support. That is a lot of charities, but we accept that it is fewer than forecast. That is why we are simplifying the scheme by removing two of the main eligibility criteria and relaxing the community buildings rules.
I can also tell the House today that once the new rules take effect, HMRC will undertake a broad communications exercise to promote greater awareness of the gift aid small donations scheme. I have also asked what targeted activity can be undertaken. I encourage charity sector bodies and representative groups to work with the Treasury and HMRC to make the reformed scheme a success. I thank them and the officials concerned for the constructive approach that they take and the work that is done to bring this legislation to the House.
Let me say a quick word about the tax-free childcare portion of the Bill, which makes a small number of minor and technical, but important, amendments to the tax-free childcare scheme. That fact has not limited the interest shown in the scheme during the debates, and tax-free childcare continues to enjoy cross-party support. A number of speakers have looked forward to being able to use the scheme for their own children, and such a prospect draws ever closer as the scheme is set to commence next year.
For many, this will be the first time they will be able to access Government support with childcare costs as tax-free childcare will be available to all working parents, regardless of whether they are employed or self-employed. HMRC is about to begin inviting parents to test the new service in trials. As in bringing forward these changes, HMRC will again listen to parents to ensure that it provides the best possible service. The responses made in the Bill, with the minor and technical changes, will help HMRC to ensure that it is quick and easy for working parents to access the support they need with their childcare costs.
The Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill is a short and, it is fair to say, uncontroversial, yet important Bill. Its passage through the House has seen thoughtful and constructive challenge that has allowed us to debate a number of important principles, as well as to praise some of the vital charities that are forces for good in our communities and our wider society. The Bill is therefore a positive Bill. We are making life easier for small charities and for working parents, and I commend it to the House.
Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I will keep my comments very brief in this stage in the proceedings. The Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill as a whole makes positive changes to the gift aid small donations scheme and very minor changes to the tax-free childcare scheme.
The Opposition have welcomed the Government’s aim throughout the passage of the Bill to make sure that the gift aid small donations scheme is more accessible and to encourage charities to take part. The scheme has not been as successful as the Government had hoped, and the Bill certainly makes changes to improve that situation. In particular, the abolition of the two-year eligibility rule and the two-in-four years claims rule will open up the scheme to new charities, while bringing contactless payments into the definition of a small payment will bring the scheme into line with how donations can be made in the modern day.
However, as the Minister is aware, the Opposition think the Bill could have gone further, as do representatives of the charity sector. Indeed, the Charity Finance Group has said that the Government were “locking in future failure” by not introducing wider reforms. We have tried to improve the Bill after receiving feedback from the sector. Along with SNP Members, we have tried to address the key issue coming out of the feedback, which is the matching requirement. Our amendments in Committee and on Report would have forced the Government to conduct a specific review of the rule and of how the scheme fits within the framework of anti-fraud measures in the scheme. Unfortunately, the Government have not made any movement on this issue, which is a barrier to entry to the scheme, according to charity representatives. However, I note the comments that the Minister made earlier, and I look forward to receiving any further updates from her on this matter in due course.
We have also tried to widen the payment methods eligible for the scheme beyond cash and contactless payments. Our amendments would have included cheques and donations via text and online. Again, unfortunately, the Government have not seen fit to work with us on this part of the Bill, simply using flawed logic, as it were, to prevent the changes that the charity sector wants from happening. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the comments made during the passage of the Bill, and consider whether amendments can be made in due course to make the use of cheques and, in particular, of text messages more accessible to the gift aid sector.
Finally, we have tried to address what appeared to be a flaw in the original legislation, preventing the scouts, guides and cadet groups from gaining the full benefits of the scheme. For the benefit of hon. Members who are not aware of the issue, the connected charities rule means that the scouts, guides and cadet groups are each treated as one charity, despite the fact that local groups are individual and self-financing, and that means only one top-up payment can be received. As I highlighted when we discussed this amendment in the Public Bill Committee, the Charity Finance Group has suggested that such treatment means they receive only 17p per individual group a year.
The Minister had a few issues with our amendment, as drafted, and we listened to her concerns and modified it to reflect them. I particularly appreciate the comments she has made in relation to scout groups and their bases. However, she will recognise that the comments made in Committee related to the need for the scope of our amendment to go further to include groups beyond the scouts and girl guides. I hope she will consider that very carefully and see whether she can put in place any future amendments or provisions to deal with any other groups in a similar position that are not, as it were, mopped up by the Bill.
To conclude, perhaps once the Government have reviewed the scheme’s effectiveness in the light of the changes the Bill makes we may have an opportunity to come back to some of those changes, as I have said. Overall, however, the Opposition support the Bill and its aims. I hope it will succeed in making the small donations scheme more accessible and in supporting smaller and new charities. I look forward to an update on the impact of the revised legislation in due course.
It is nice to speak on Third Reading of a Bill when there has largely been agreement on many of the measures it contains.
The Government’s measures on the gift aid small donations scheme are sensible and logical steps forward, and it is good that more charities will be able to benefit from the scheme as a result. We were very clear that we would have liked the Government to go further, but we appreciate the steps they have taken, and the wide-ranging consultation they have undertaken.
We raised the matching requirement a number of times. My understanding is that the Government have the power to make changes to that requirement without the need for primary legislation anyway. It is useful to know that the Government can consider that if they receive future representations on the matter. Our concerns related in particular to volunteer-led charities—the very smallest charities, which perhaps do not have the administrative capacity to access some of these schemes. But I appreciate that the Government have committed to undertake a wider publicity effort on the gift aid small donations scheme and on how charities can access tax reliefs. I hope that charities across the UK will benefit from those changes.
The changes to the way that people will access childcare payments are sensible and seem more accessible than the current system. Having used the current system and struggled with some of its administrative impacts, I think the new scheme will iron out some of those flaws, and am pleased that even before the new scheme comes in the Government are re-evaluating it and looking to make it as accessible and as easy for parents to navigate as possible. I understand that a pilot will take place and that, by the end of next year, pretty much everyone should have moved over to the new scheme. I hope the Government will commit to re-evaluating the scheme as it goes forward, to ensure that it is as accessible as possible.
On that re-evaluation, in Scotland we are making changes to the early learning and childcare system, and are looking at a mass expansion so that as many families as possible can access free, good quality childcare that is easily accessible in local communities. In my local community, at Manor Park Primary School, 20 two-year-olds will take part in a trial that is taking place in my area and in a number of other places across Scotland. I am sure that the UK Government will be keen to learn from Scotland’s experience of the expansion of free childcare and will be looking at it for the future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on Third Reading. As I have said, we are broadly supportive of the Bill but would have liked it to go further in some areas. However, we will not oppose its Third Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.