Meaning of “eligible charity”

Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 18th October 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to all Members for being here to examine the Bill in detail and to many Members for their participation in the good and constructive debate we had on Second Reading. I welcomed the Opposition’s pledge to support the principles of the Bill, and I hope that today we can submit the Bill to further constructive scrutiny.

I will give a little bit of general background information before specifically addressing clause 1. The Bill makes a number of amendments to the Small Charitable Donations Act 2012. I know there are Members present who served on the Committee responsible for considering that Bill. The changes will ensure that the gift aid small donations scheme operates effectively and flexibly for a greater number of charities and community amateur sports clubs. The Bill also makes minor and technical changes to the tax-free childcare scheme, to improve parents’ experience.

The reforms to the gift aid small donations scheme are intended to simplify and increase access to it, particularly for new and small charities. We heard more about that on Second Reading. That will be achieved by removing a number of eligibility criteria to allow more small and new charities to benefit sooner, which I will discuss in a moment; reforming the community buildings rules to allow more charities to benefit from the important work they carry out in their local communities; simplifying the rule specifying the total top-up payment that charities and CASCs are entitled to claim, which will ensure fairness and parity of treatment between charities that carry out similar activities but are structured in different ways; and future proofing the scheme by allowing contactless donations to be eligible for top-up payments.

Clause 1 substantially simplifies the gift aid small donations scheme by removing two of the existing eligibility requirements, enabling smaller and new charities to access top-up payments much sooner. A number of charities have voiced support for that. Currently, a charity must have been registered for at least two full tax years and have claimed gift aid in at least two of the previous four tax years without a gap of longer than a year. However, the Government are keen to encourage take-up of the scheme, particularly among small and newer charities. Removing the two-year registration requirement will help to achieve that by allowing the up to 9,000 new charities that apply for recognition by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs each year to receive top-up payments as soon as that recognition is granted.

During the Government’s review of the small donations scheme, we heard about the difficulties faced by small charities making irregular or intermittent gift aid claims. The Government therefore consulted on relaxing the gift aid history requirement to only one year, rather than two. However, after listening to the views of the sector, we decided to go even further. Clause 1 removes the two-in-four-year gift aid history requirement entirely, which is a significant simplification for charities. The reforms are a good thing and have been widely welcomed by the charity sector.

The Charity Tax Group commented that relaxing the gift aid history requirement

“will hopefully widen access to the scheme, particularly among smaller charities.”

The Charity Finance Group said:

“The Bill is scrapping these rules and this means that more charities will be eligible and will reduce complexity.”

The removal of the two-year rule and the gift aid history requirement is a meaningful and significant simplification of the gift aid small donations scheme. It will make the scheme more accessible to smaller and new charities. I hope that the clause stands part of the Bill.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It is a pleasure for me, too, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.

As the Minister outlined, clause 1 amends the meaning of “eligible charity” for the purposes of the gift aid small donations scheme, removing the requirement for a charity to have been registered for at least two full tax years before it can access the scheme. The provision also removes the two-in-four-year claims rule, which dictates that a charity must have made a successful gift aid claim in at least two of the previous four tax years with no more than two years’ gap between claims. Those measures will simplify the scheme and allow newly formed charities to access the Government top-up payment.

I am pleased that the Government have taken heed of responses to their consultation on reform to the scheme and scrapped the two-in-four-year claims rule fully. The initial proposal was to replace the rule with the requirement that charities must have made a successful gift aid claim only in the previous tax year. I understand that respondents felt that that could disqualify some charities that are currently eligible for the scheme but did not claim gift aid in the previous tax year for a variety of reasons. In the light of that change, the measures are welcomed by the Opposition and the industry. We are happy to support them. However, I have one concern on which I hope the Minister can provide some reassurance.

The requirement for a charity to have been registered for two years is arguably a way of ensuring that charities are not set up for the purposes of claiming a top-up from the Government illegitimately. The Opposition have tabled a new clause about anti-fraud measures, which we will debate later, so I will not digress too much. However it would be helpful if the Minister would assure me that the Government have carried out an assessment of whether removing the two-year rule poses an increased risk of fraud. Other than that small but important point, the Opposition are happy to support the clause.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson for those points, for her support and for her specific question. By removing the two-year rule, we want the scheme to be more flexible and generous, but we want to ensure that there are some safeguards.

We debated the balance between flexibility, generosity and safeguarding charities on Second Reading. That is why, as the Government made clear in the original impact assessment, the lack of evidence that a cash donation has been made makes the gift aid small donations scheme vulnerable to fraud. We must continue to protect against that but—as we will come to later—that is one of the reasons why the Government are retaining the gift aid matching requirement, which provides sufficient protection while getting the light-touch regulatory balance right. I will say more about that later. I hope that my response is sufficient and that the clause stands part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2