How The Wheel is Responding to COVID-19

Posted on 19 Mar 2020

The latest update (31 March) from Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel. See archive of earlier updates below.

See also: Press releases


We know that this continues to be a worrying and uncertain time for everyone across the country and that our members and the wider sector are working every day to support individuals and communities during this crisis. 

At The Wheel we are working tirelessly to ensure that our vibrant and unique community and voluntary sector can continue to play its very important role in helping people during this emergency, and that we can remain healthy and strong in order to play a leading role in supporting society as it recovers.

 We have some important updates we would like to bring your particular attention to:

1. Statutory Funding:

For organisations that are fully or partly statutorily funded:

  • There have been some positive developments in this regard with letters and communications from many government departments and agencies regarding continuity of funding and flexibility of existing funding commitments to allow organisations to respond fully to the crisis in the interest of the communities they serve.
  • The Department of Rural and Community Development published the Government Action Plan for the Community Response to COVID-19 on 20 March, which contains clear commitments on the part of the State to enabling the community and voluntary sector as a vital part of the national COVID-19 response effort and recovery afterwards.
  • We are aware that many organisations face additional costs associated in responding to demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis. There is a need for additional special funds associated with providing PPE and covering the costs of staff to replace those who are sick or self-isolating. We are continuing to make the case for this additional provision.

2. Wage Subsidy Scheme:

  • With regard to the Wage Subsidy scheme, this scheme is being understood as the key response by the state to underpinning the continued operation of all firms in the country – including community and voluntary organisations, charities, and social enterprises.
  • We can confirm that community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises are definitely eligible to apply for the scheme. From clarifications that we have received from Revenue last Friday27 March, we understand that charities that have reserve funds will not be expected to expend all of those funds to qualify for the scheme.
  • We are now recommending that all charities consider carefully, and as soon as practicably possible, whether they should apply, and prepare speedy applications for the scheme, even if it is only a partial solution to the challenges you face.
  • To assist you, The Revenue have now published a helpful FAQ.

3.  A ‘Resilience Fund’ for Our Sector:

  • We have made the initial case for additional resources to the Government. From our continued member engagement and our special survey of members last Thursday 26 March, it is clear that the sector is facing severe losses in both fundraised income and earned income. The Government is well aware of the extent of this income drop being experienced in the sector and we will continue to advocate for resourcing that will ensure that charities, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises can best respond in supporting vulnerable people over the coming months, and be in a position to rebuild over the coming year.

We are aware of the immense effort and sense of solidarity that is on full display in so many charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises across Ireland. We continue to be inspired and heartened by this amazing response to this national crisis. We also give you our commitment that The Wheel will continue to champion the sector with determination and passion in the weeks and months ahead. You have never been more needed than you are now – and we thank you for the work that you do.  

Please contact us if you have any specific issues you wish us to be aware of. You can email our Policy Officer, Lily Power, with your input: lily@wheel.ie.

 #CommunityResponseIRL

 

Earlier updates from The Wheel

An update from Tony Ward, Director of Finance at The Wheel. Published 27 March 2020.

Earlier this week the Government announced a range of supports for employers who are experiencing disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for employees who have either become unemployed, or are unable to work due to illness as a result of the crisis.

Below is overview, compiled by Tony Ward, The Wheel's Director of Finance, of the schemes which are currently available.

(This news article is an updated version of this blog, and incorporates the 27 March blog update. Article further updated on 30 March, to incorporate Wage Subsidy Scheme FAQs.)

With regard to the Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme covered in more detail below, all employers who meet the qualifications for the scheme are are eligible - including community and voluntary organisations and charities. Clarity has now been provided by the Revenue that the scheme does indeed apply to both private businesses and charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises.

The Wheel is working on building a bank of questions to which we will be seeking clarifications from the Revenue as the scheme shapes up. We will also be working to make this scheme work for charities facing decisions to lay off staff - and we will be engaging with Government to ensure that if this scheme as implemented doesn't work for charities an alternative that supports charities and community and voluntary organisations is put into place.

The Revenue have assured us they are providing as full a service as possible to charities during this difficult time, and rest assured, we will bring updates and clarifications to you on this scheme as they emerge.  Please revert with any questions you might have on this scheme to Tony Ward, Director of Finance: tony@wheel.ie

Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme

This scheme enables employees, whose employers are affected by the pandemic, to receive significant supports directly from their employer. It will be available to employers who keep employees on the payroll throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning employers can retain links with employees for when business picks up after the crisis. 

To qualify for the scheme, employers must:

  • Be experiencing significant negative economic disruption due to COVID-19
  • Be able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Revenue, a minimum of a 25% decline in turnover
  • Be unable to pay normal wages and normal outgoings fully
  • Retain their employees on the payroll.

Organisations experiencing what is repeatedly referred to as business interruption, can apply under this scheme to help retain staff during this coming 12-week period. The full eligibility criteria is set out here.

Note: it is important to note that all employers are eligible, whether charities, nonprofits or private companies.

Regarding how to demonstrate to Revenue that the charity’s business has been negatively affected, please see this document that was published by Revenue this morning. We urge all members to read it in detail.

Amongst other things, this guidance addresses a question we have received from many members on the use of reserves to fund wage payments. It specifically states that, having cash reserves will not be interpreted as an ability to pay wages as long as it can be demonstrated that there has been significant business interruption and that employers are making every effort to ensure staff continue to benefit from full pay. For many charities reserves may be regarded as restricted and are, in my opinion, not available to be used to pay other costs such as wages.

This clarification appears to go a long way to balance the need to ensure the scheme is properly administered and made available to those who really need it, with direction for a self-assessment by organisations as to their own particular circumstances. It would be important, as outlined in the guidance, to retain evidence of business disruption and the rationale for making an application under the scheme.

One additional point of clarification The Wheel obtained from the Revenue is that, where the scheme encourages organisations to maintain income as close to 100% as possible, this refers to employee net pay and any top ups from employers – it does not refer to organisational income.

Further information, and details of how to apply are available here.

It is worth noting that the operation of this scheme is evolving, so if you have queries on any operation detail please contact the Revenue's National Employer Helpline.

Update: the Revenue have published a list of Frequently Asked Questions providing employers, payroll operators and agents with additional information on the operation of the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme - view them here.

COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

A payment of €350 per week is available to all employees, and the self-employed, who have lost employment due to the pandemic. The payment will be in place for 12-weeks. Applications can be made via My Welfare here.

Illness Benefit Due to COVID-19 Absences

If an employee is told to self-isolate by a doctor or the HSE, or has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they can apply for an enhanced Illness Benefit payment of €350 per week. To be eligible for this payment a person must be confined to their home or a medical facility. This payment is €350 per week, and will be paid for a maximum of 2-weeks where a person is self-isolating, and for a maximum of 10-weeks if a person has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Details of how to apply for this benefit are here.

VAT Compensation Scheme

A number of you have inquired about the deadline for making a claim for 2019 (which currently remains 30 June 2020). We've been in touch with the Revenue about extending this deadline in light of the demands placed on the charity sector during the current crisis, but a decision has not yet been made. If you're planning on making a claim this year, it may be prudent to work towards the June deadline for the moment. Applications can be made through Revenue Online Service (ROS) with details here. Further information on the scheme is available here on our website, and if there are any extensions to the deadline made, we'll be disseminating that through our various communications channels.

Charitable Donation Scheme and other Revenue services to charities

Revenue have advised that they are continuing to process CHY 3 and CHY 4 forms as normal, and as quickly as possible, during this crisis. Information on the scheme is available here.


Please direct any additional questions or feedback you may have to tony@wheel.ie.

#CommunityReponseIRL

An update from Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel. Published 24 March 2020.

I am aware that this is a time of crisis for many of our members and the wider sector, and I am writing with an update as to some of the certainties that many are seeking at this time from government, regulators and funders.

This update provides a further update in relation to progress we are making on your behalf with government, regarding key issues facing many community and voluntary organisations, charities, and social enterprises. 

Members are reporting to us that they are facing serious challenges relating to the collapse of donations, fundraising income and earned income from activities and services. These collapses threaten their ability to support the people and communities they serve. Additionally, many members that are in receipt of grant funding or service-agreement funding from statutory agencies are uncertain about future funding arrangements. 

On your behalf, we have been working intensely over the last ten days to draw the attention of ministers and senior departmental and agency officials to these concerns. I held a number of high-level meetings in the latter part of last week, on foot of detailed correspondences with senior officials. I am pleased to report that there have been some recent developments which may provide the clarifications sought by many of our members. 

The Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) is the lead department for the community and voluntary sector in Ireland (including charities and social enterprises). While each department and agency develops and implements its own funding policies, these should be consistent with policy statements issuing from government, as published by DRCD. This is why I would like to draw your attention to an important extract we were glad to secure in the Government Action Plan for Support the Community Response to COVID-19 published on Friday by Minister Michael Ring. The plan states (on page 7 under a section entitled Supporting our Community and Voluntary Sector) that: 

"In delivering for our communities, the Government works closely with organisations throughout the community and voluntary sector. It is recognised that the sector will itself be challenged as it seeks to contribute to the national effort at this time. The unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis will require the re-prioritisation and re-direction of activities, new contingency arrangements to maintain and support critical services, and new flexibilities in the use, re-prioritisation and reassignment of resources in the sector. Government is committed to working closely with the sector in managing through these challenges over the coming period. These new pressures and requirements will need to be factored into future review and evaluation of programme delivery targets and performance delivery agreements already in place for 2020." 

Please rest assured that we are already working to bring these Government commitments to the attention of all funding departments and agencies. We will also spare no effort to ensure that all government funding schemes and arrangements apply these commitments, and that in applying them they support organisations to advance their existing work and their core missions. 

Additionally, we are working with a number of sector networks and federations to press for a special stability fund to support the working capital and income of charities community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises in these unprecedented times. Such a scheme has already been introduced in Scotland for equivalent organisations who are seeing their donations and earned income lines reduce drastically. We have discussed this with a group of CEOs last week and have also held meetings with senior officials in this regard.  

In order to make as strong a case as possible for such a scheme, we will be surveying our members in more detail to gather specific information about the impacts on your organisation's income to date and the expected impact over the coming months.

I met with Helen Martin, CEO of the Charities Regulator last week and communicated to her the impact that COVID-19 has had, and will have, on charities. I encouraged the Regulator to introduce any flexibility that may be necessary to support charities and have made a detailed submission in this regard yesterday. I have been assured that the Regulator will take a flexible and understanding approach. Last Friday afternoon they published a useful series of FAQs and intend to introduce more FAQs as the situation evolves. I will be meeting with the Regulator on a regular basis over the next few weeks and months as the situation develops, so that charities in Ireland can be supported in their work to greatest effect  

We are engaging with the mainstream developments and interventions that the government has announced (and will be announcing) for employers and businesses generally to ensure that there is no impediment in accessing them for organisations that have charitable status. I am pleased to report that charities will have access to the same supports as ‘regular businesses’. We will keep this under review.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to a wide range of very useful resources (published by DRCD on Friday) for community and voluntary organisations responding to the challenge COVID-19 presents operationally. We are all asked to take the time to review and disseminate across your own organisation and networks. In particular, their new help-desk email address that can be used to seek answers to specific queries may be very helpful in the coming weeks: c&vsupports@drcd.gov.ie. Other information around how DRCD is supporting communities at this time is available here.  

I would once again like to offer any support that I personally or The Wheel can provide to you in these very challenging times. My colleague Ivan Cooper, Director of Policy, is in regular contact with our members also at this time and also available to help – as is our entire team.  

At an ‘online roundtable’ that I hosted with some CEOs of our members last Friday, I heard about services being entirely redesigned in a matter of days, counselling and one-to-one meetings transferring online overnight, and innovative ways of moving income generation online – to name but a few. The innovation and resilience of all of you who work with people, families and communities is astounding. Please know that my commitment to you and your work is that I, and all in The Wheel, will champion it with determination and passion in the weeks and months ahead.

You have never been more needed than you are now. On behalf of all of us, thank you for the work that you do.  

 #CommunityResponseIRL

 

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