How The Wheel is Responding to COVID-19

Posted on 16 Apr 2020

The latest updates from Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel, outlining our most recent work to identify and address the major issues facing the sector, as well as to maximise the capacity of our members to support vulnerable people and communities across Ireland during this crisis.

See archive of earlier updates below.

See also: Press releases   Media Coverage


Latest update, sent via email to all members on 15 May 2020. Edited for online audience.

An update for members of The Wheel, to keep you informed of recent developments in this time of rapid change and continuing challenge.

1) COVID-19 Stability Fund

As you will no doubt be aware, last Friday (8 May) the Government announced the very welcome €40m package of supports for the charity sector that comprises:

  • A €35 million COVID-19 Stability Fund which will provide a level of support to qualifying organisations who are most in need and have seen their trading and/or fundraising income drop significantly during the crisis. Deadline for applications: Wednesday, 20 May @ 5pm.
     
  • A €5m Innovate Together Fund which will focus on supporting responses to the COVID-19 crisis that require innovative and adaptive solutions to existing and emerging challenges. Deadline for applications: Wednesday, 27 May @ 5pm.

Both funds are now accepting applications on very tight deadlines. We cannot re-iterate enough the importance of applying for support if you need it and if you believe you can, in any way, present your organisation’s work within the broadest possible interpretation of the eligible services. We have come across some organisations this week which are ‘self-censoring’ and not considering applying because they are interpreting the list of eligible services/organisations in a potentially overly narrow way. So if you are in this cohort, we encourage you to review the scheme again, just in case you may have been too hasty the first time around.

We strongly advise you to apply for these funds as soon as possible. A high volume of applications will strengthen the overall case to government for additional medium to long-term supports for our sector.

Additionally, you can learn more about the background of the funds here.

Please also note that this very welcome and important Stability Fund is designed to provide urgent liquidity support for organisations in certain categories facing crisis, and it was not designed as a solution to many organisations medium to long-term funding sustainability. 

Much work remains to be done by government departments and agencies to ensure the financial sustainability of work done by organisations that they fund, and much work also remains to be done to ensure continuation of services provided by organisations that fundraise or trade for the majority of their funds. 

Rest assured that we are working hard engaging with government departments and agencies, and working in coalition with our colleague networks and federations to ensure the medium to long-term funding-sustainability of the sector is addressed.

2) Government Formation Process

As you know, The Wheel ran a pre-general election campaign, ‘Stronger Communities Stronger Ireland’, and we previously let you know that a total of 79 of the elected TDs signed our election manifesto. Since the election we have been in ongoing contacts with the political parties regarding government formation. As discussions remain ongoing, we have more recently been in contact with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party specifically, to promote commitments to address the key issues affecting the sector in any new Programme for Government.

An earlier Framework Document, published jointly by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, committed in a section headed ‘A Better Quality of Life for All’ to: “Support community groups, arts and cultural bodies, sports clubs, voluntary organisations, charity groups and voluntary bodies to recover and grow in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Emergency.” 

We believe this text provides a good basis on which to develop a more detailed set of commitments in any eventual Programme for Government.

Our key requirements for our members and the sector as outlined in our Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland general election campaign is for government to:

  1. Recognise and support the value the sector adds to society
  2. Support sustainable funding models
  3. Enable responsive services through streamlined compliance systems
  4. Embrace collaborative partnership working.

Clearly, and as noted above, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 creates both challenges and opportunities for the sector in obtaining the necessary level of commitments, policies and resources to enable it to survive through and develop during the post COVID-19 period.

We believe that the decision of government to provide the €40m Stability Fund for charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises is an indication that government at all levels is aware of the role and value that community-based organisations play, and need to play, in our society. We will be working hard to ensure the role and value of the sector is explicitly recognised in any Programme for Government and that the commitments we sought in our Stronger Communities, Stronger Ireland campaign are realised.

To ensure this we will continue contacts with all political parties on this basis in the coming period.

3) Focussing on the medium to long term future: Virtual Summit - Weds, 27 May

Whilst we have invested considerable energy and attention to securing the very welcome Stability Fund described above, we have also been consulting with members on the medium to long-term implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the work of charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises. 

In this regard we would like to invite you to our forthcoming Virtual Summit on Wednesday, 27 May, where a distinguished panel will discuss the current situation, the challenges facing our work, and what we can do to shape future policy and embed community values in any imminent change.

This is your opportunity to help shape that change.

The panel features:

  • Suzanne Connolly - CEO, Barnardos  
  • Alison Harnett - Policy Director, National Federation of Voluntary Bodies
  • Anna Shakespeare - CEO, Pobal   
  • Tracey Monson - Director of Services, Daughters of Charity.

We will be continuing this discussion in the months ahead with more Virtual Summit sessions on this topic - and we will be gathering the emerging thinking into a discussion document for wider dissemination in the sector with a view to projecting the sector's vision into policy making processes.

We are also delighted to announce that the Secretary General of the Department of Rural and Community Development - the lead department for the community and voluntary sector and for the COVID-19 Stability Fund - will be participating at the summit. So please do register here for this free event, and we look forward to “virtually meeting you” on the day!

4) The Wheel Launches New HR / Employment Law and Wage Subsidy Scheme Helpdesk Service

We have noticed a very sharp increase among our members in recent weeks for elevated levels of support relating to HR and employment law, as well as up-to-date information regarding the Wage Subsidy Scheme.

And so, we are particularly delighted to announce the launch of our free helpdesk service for the sector, which has two main strands:

  1. HR & Employment Law: run in partnership with Adare Human Resource Management, this phone / email helpdesk service has been established to provide our members with the most accurate and authoritative advice relating to HR and employment law. This free helpdesk service should be your first port of call when it comes to these crucial organisational topics.
     
  2. Wage Subsidy Scheme: this aspect of our helpdesk service will focus specifically on the running of this key COVID-19-related financial support programme (as it pertains to Irish nonprofits), and is administered directly by The Wheel's Director of Finance, Tony Ward.

Please visit our helpdesk webpage to learn more and for full helpdesk contacts.

We would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the crucial support of our partners at the Medtronic Foundation, who have made a number of generous donations across the Irish community and voluntary sector, including a grant to The Wheel for the purpose of establishing this important new helpdesk services, as well as for support for The Wheel's efforts to address the notable upsurge in HR and employment law needs of our members. 

5) Preparing for Returning to the Workplace

We know that lockdown restrictions will be eased on a phased basis, beginning on 18 May and running over five phases as part of a comprehensive Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. With the addition of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, employers are being supported in their preparations to return to work safely and in accordance with the easement of restrictions as laid out in the roadmap.

Every organisation has obligations to ensure the health and safety of both their employees and visitors to their premises and so the implementation of a carefully considered return to work plan will be critical. Employer actions and policies to protect individual lives and public health during the phased return to work should be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Key considerations will be health and safety compliance and ensuring that employment equality rights are maintained.

We are working with partners to develop some resources to assist charities, Community & voluntary organisations and social enterprises in this transition. We'll keep you posted on this. But for now we highly recommend you read Adare Human Resource Management's latest blog, Practical Considerations of Returning to Work Safely.

Deirdre Garvey | Chief Executive Officer, The Wheel

 #CommunityResponseIRL

Earlier updates from The Wheel

We are delighted to inform you that Government has just announced the Stability Fund that The Wheel has been working so hard on your behalf to secure over the last month. 

The overall package of €40m in supports will comprise:

  1. A €35 million COVID-19 Stability Fund which will provide a level of support to qualifying organisations who are most in need and have seen their trading and/or fundraising income drop significantly during the crisis.
     
  2. A €5m Government commitment to a Philanthropy Fund which will focus on supporting responses to the COVID-19 crisis that require innovative and adaptive solutions to existing and emerging challenges. This funding will be dispersed through Social Innovation Fund Ireland.

The Stability Fund will open for applications on 11 May 2020. Further details on the Fund can be found on the Department’s website at (www.gov.ie/drcd) and also on the Pobal website at www.pobal.ie. Email queries can be sent to StabilityScheme@pobal.ie.

We have just issued this press release warmly welcoming the intervention by Government to support our community and voluntary sector as it responds to increased need in a time of collapsed fundraised/earned income. We would in particular like to thank Minister Michael Ring and the Department of Rural and Community Development for the leadership they have demonstrated in responding to the sector’s needs in this time of unprecedented crisis. You will find further detail on the schemes below.

We have been working intensely over the last month to make the case to government (read the submission) to demonstrate the need for this fund and to support government in identifying the most appropriate response. We believe our behind-the-scenes work has yielded a very important fund. While not a panacea for the sector, it will provide necessary breathing space for many organisations to survive through the unprecedented challenge posed by the predicted €400m drop in fundraised/earned income (at least €160m of which will not be compensated for by the Wage Subsidy Scheme).

We would like to thank our valued members for their patience as we worked to ensure this positive outcome for so many in the sector. Their trust and confidence has been highly valued and appreciated, and the strength-in-numbers of The Wheel’s collective membership was a key factor in this success. We particularly want to thank all those who completed one of the many surveys we conducted to build the evidence base needed to secure the Stability Fund. We would also like to thank the thirteen organisations who signed the submission to Government with us and with whom we have worked in full partnership to secure this positive outcome. 

While the scheme is hugely important to ensuring the survival of many organisations and the crucial work that they do, we know that the package announced today will in no way address the full need that members (whether they be charities, social enterprises or community & voluntary organisations) face in their work going forward. We outline below the work that we will be doing to address the medium to long term situation – but before that, we would like to provide some detail on the Stability Fund and the Philanthropy Fund here:

The Stability Fund

The Stability Fund has been developed to provide support to qualifying organisations who find themselves in particular difficulty and have seen their trading and/or fundraising income drop significantly during the crisis. The Fund will focus on organisations providing supports and services in the following sectors

  • Health and Social Care (including addiction, disability and mental health)
  • Child and Family Services (including counselling/therapies)
  • Domestic / Sexual / Gender-based violence
  • Housing / Homelessness
  • Community Services (e.g. meals on wheels / befriending services / old age supports / vulnerable people’s support groups etc.)
  • Community Education Sector.

With funding being provided from the Dormant Accounts Fund, the new Stability Fund will provide a once off grant to qualifying organisations that are providing critical services to those most vulnerable in society. Organisations will be required to demonstrate the impact that the crisis has had on their services and applications will be prioritised according to need. Pobal (www.pobal.ie), which works on behalf of Government to support communities and local agencies toward achieving social inclusion and development, will administer the Stability Fund on behalf of the Department of Rural and Community Development.

The Stability Fund will open for applications on Monday, 11 May 2020. Further details on the Fund can be found on the Department’s website at (www.gov.ie/drcd) and also on the Pobal website at www.pobal.ie. Email queries can be sent to StabilityScheme@pobal.ie.

The Philanthropy Fund

The Philanthropy Fund, which is complementary to the Stability Fund, is a unique transformative opportunity for the community and voluntary, charity, and social enterprise sector in Ireland to innovate and adapt to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

The Fund comprises a €5m commitment from the Department of Rural and Community Development (from the Dormant Accounts Fund) which will allow grants to be administered immediately and donations to be leveraged over time from the philanthropic community. The Fund will be administered by Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) on behalf of the Department with grants of up to €200,000 available.

The focus of the Fund will be on backing innovations which are already developed or are being developed during the crisis that need to become the “new normal”, including innovations in organisations that are adapting and developing innovative business delivery models and/or income generation streams in a changing economic and societal landscape.

The purpose of the Philanthropy Fund is to support adaptation and innovation in finding solutions to emerging needs e.g.:

  • enabling on-line education particularly for disadvantaged groups;
  • on-line youth mental health interventions;
  • community outreach to vulnerable groups while social distancing;
  • re-skilling the workforce for new ways of working;
  • developing the circular economy; and
  • new approaches to solutions for food security.

Eligibility for Funding

Funds will be available to a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisations based in Ireland delivering services/activities in Irish communities.

  • Only organisations in existence prior to 1 January 2019 and operational on 1 March 2020 will be eligible as this will provide evidence of appropriate governance and financial stability.
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate suitable governance and a fund management structure.

The Philanthropy Fund will open for applications on the Wednesday 13 May. Further details can be found on the Department’s website (www.gov.ie/drcd) and at www.socialinnovation.ie.

Conclusion

While warmly welcoming today's announcement, we  are acutely aware that it does not address the full income challenge facing the sector.  The Wheel will continue to engage closely with Government to build on today’s key announcement and ensure that the sector’s medium-to-long-term funding needs are addressed in the form of a Sustainability Plan as the sector adjusts to new realities in the period ahead. Our sector’s added-value to society, the provision of health & social care, as well as to community cohesion and civic spirit is now clear for all to see. In The Wheel, we are committed to building on this to see a sustainable and enhanced role for our sector in the months and years ahead.

Rest assured that we will continue to engage closely with you and all of our valued members to understand the challenges facing the sector with a view to leading and shaping emerging thinking and public-policy priorities. We will do everything possible to ensure that the work of the community and voluntary sector, and the community spirit that inspires it, is central to governmental concerns in the period ahead.

In this regard, we invite all to register for our free Virtual Summit, which this year is being delivered as a series, beginning on the original date of 27 May.

On this date, we will be commencing an engagement on our sector’s future – to ensure that it is shaped first and foremost by the needs of the people and communities we serve. We encourage you to keep that morning free in your diaries.

Deirdre Garvey | Chief Executive Officer, The Wheel

 #CommunityResponseIRL

Below is an update (27 April 2020) from Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel, outlining our most recent work to identify and address the major issues facing the sector, as well as to maximise the capacity of our members to support vulnerable people and communities across Ireland during this crisis.

1)  A Resilience Fund to address the collapse of generated income from fundraising and traded/earned income

Working with our colleague associations, networks and federations, we made a comprehensive submission to Government last week calling for an immediate, short term Resilience Fund and a more medium-long term stability package for charities (similar to that introduced in neighbouring jurisdictions across the UK). (See here for a list of partner organisations)

The submission identifies that the nonprofit sector as a whole will be down about €400m due to the collapse in earned/fundraised income, and that while the Wage Subsidy Scheme (and commitments from public funders to continue funding) is likely to help a great deal for many charities in reducing the impact of this loss, there still remains a significant gap that needs to be filled. This is because the Wage Subsidy Scheme, useful to many charities, will only assist organisations in meeting wage costs, but will not address the many non-pay costs that organisations face (such as rent, utilities, insurance, binding contractual commitments and full costs of service delivery provided etc.).  

Following ongoing engagement with the government since making the submission, we are confident that it knows and accepts the extent of the earned/fundraised income collapse on charities. We are also aware that the government is actively engaged on working on this issue. I have stressed to them the absolute urgency of the need to find a way to ensure charities, community & voluntary groups and social enterprises can continue to work in communities doing the work that they do so well.

We hasten to add that we have no guarantee, but it is our view as to developments. So please take our guarded hopefulness with the ‘health warning’ it requires. We will keep you informed the moment we hear anything.

2. Looking to the Future....

As an organisation with an important leadership role to play, we have been also turning our attention to the medium to long term implications of the as-yet-unclear post-COVID-19 reality for the work of charities, social enterprises, and community and voluntary organisations. The sector needs to have a clearer view of likely outcomes if it is to be in a position to make the required case for the longer term Stability Package that we believe will be needed, regardless of any initial emergency Resilience Fund. 

In this regard, we have commenced a process of thinking and planning, we have been meeting and talking with CEOs of different sizes and types of member organisations recently and begun to consider the medium and long term future. The Policy sub-committee of our board of directors has also met on this question. Following these discussions, we are developing our thinking on what we believe the big issues are for the future of the sector and we will be arranging further opportunities for members to engage and share their opinions and views on what the priorities should be for the sector in the period ahead. We will also be seeking to build further on the very positive collaborative work that we have been doing with our sister federations and networks in the sector to identify and advance the key priorities in the interests of the people and communities we all support in our work. For more on this, please contact ivan@wheel.ie

3. Training Update

Our Training & Events page has now been updated to include all our upcoming online training events. These include many of our regular free webinars for members alongside brand new interactive online workshops on topics ranging from the Implementation of the Charities Governance Code, to Managing People for the First Time, to Writing Europe for Citizens Funding Proposals.

We are also delighted to be able to bring our regular member network events online for the first time, bringing members together at this crucial time to share their experiences and concerns, learn from and inspire each other and build the essential solidarity to meet the challenges of this new era. More events coming soon.

4. Elections to The Wheel’s Board of Directors

We are also pleased to let you know that nominations are now open for this year’s board elections from amongst our Full Membership panel (only). Two board places are becoming vacant at our AGM this year on 1 July, and we are inviting Full Members who are interested to put their names forward.

As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and a balance of skills and experiences on the board, the Governance & Nominations sub-committee is particularly encouraging of nominations from those involved in the following types of organisations:

  1. Organisations in the community development field, working with minority and/or extremely disadvantaged populations.
  2. Organisations which raise significant portions of its income from fundraising.

We must stress that there is a review process after close of nominations (on 15 May), that is completed by the Governance & Nominations Sub-committee of the board and some nominations may not be successful at that stage. If, after that step, there are more than two eligible nominations, an election will then be held across the entire Full Membership panel. You can find more information here, and you can download a nomination form here. Please note that completed nomination forms must be returned to us before noon on Friday, 15 May 2020.

5. #CommunityResponseIRL

Colleagues are still working diligently to collate and promote the stories from charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises doing incredible work all across Ireland – and include them in our #CommunityResponseIRL campaign.

Over the last week alone we secured coverage for our members on Newstalk, RTÉ TV news, RTÉ radio, Irish Times and The Examiner. If you would like our support in securing media coverage about specific COVID-19 responses you are making please email sarahm@wheel.ie

For more information on the campaign, and to see some of the positive stories which have been shared with us so far, please visit: www.wheel.ie/community-response or keep an eye out for our daily positive round-up Twitter threads. You can also read a really powerful and inspiring blog about the campaign’s first month, written by my colleague Emily Bourke here.

6. COVID-19 Community Outreach

The COVID-19 Community Outreach programme, in partnership with Irish Rural Link, is now active nationwide. With a Community Champion in place in every local authority area, our aim is to ensure that no one is left unsupported and isolated during these challenging times.

Community Champions are people who are known and trusted within their county. As members of the local COVID-19 Community Forums, they are working closely with community and voluntary organisations as well as local authorities to make sure that people who need help get it from trusted, experienced sources. 

While our Community Champions are still receiving requests for practical supports like food delivery, there have been more requests for social supports with people having to cocoon for longer, particularly among older people who find themselves isolated from their families and friends. The physical and mental well-being of these people are now emerging as a key concern, and the Champions are currently liaising with local services to ensure that these needs are addressed and that nobody is left behind

If you are an organisation or individual offering services or community supports during this crisis, we would also encourage you to link in with your Champion. They can help channel support to where it’s most needed in communities and signpost people to your services. 

Find your Community Champion here.

And finally, if you have any views on any of the matters in this email, please do not hesitate to contact Deirdre (deirdre@wheel.ie), or our Director of Public Policy Ivan Cooper (ivan@wheel,ie) at any time.

 #CommunityResponseIRL

This latest update is part of our COVID-19 regular series of communications, keeping you abreast of recent developments effecting the sector, as well as to outline the work we have been doing on our members’ behalf in these very challenging times. 

We know that you have all been very busy re-configuring your activity in response to the new circumstances – and coping with the financial uncertainty that has impacted many of our members. We have been extremely heartened by the resilience organisations are showing in finding creative ways to keep their vital work going for the people, communities and causes we collectively support and serve. Innovation abounds as new ways are found to keep work going using new technologies, new ways of meeting, and most importantly new ways of engaging and supporting.

1)  A Resilience Fund to address the collapse of generated income from fundraising and traded/earned income

It will come as no surprise to learn that many members have been severely impacted by a sudden collapse in fundraised/earned income (our initial calculations assessing this at around €380m in total).

While the Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the funding-continuity-commitments being made by many funding departments and agencies are very welcome, there are still very significant non-pay (fixed) costs that such schemes and commitments do not provide for and which many organisations cannot meet. We are making the case for a special Resilience Fund (as part of a stability package) for organisations that are struggling to meet such costs due to the collapse of their self-generated income resulting from COVID-19 restrictions.

We have been working very intensely behind the scenes to make the case to Government for a stability package for charities, community & voluntary organisations, and social enterprises. Our Director of Public Policy, Ivan Cooper, and I have held several meetings with senior officials in the last month, and we are pleased to let you know that urgency of the situation is acknowledged and understood. Many departments and agencies will have a role to play – but the Department of Rural and Community Development as the lead department for the sector will be crucial. I would like to acknowledge my appreciation of the role that they have taken on in this regard. We would also like to express our sincerest appreciation to colleagues across the sector who are working with us as part of a coalition of national networks, umbrella bodies and infrastructure groups to advance this matter. It demonstrates the best of what’s possible in terms of pooling collegiality and shared interests.

2)  #CommunityResponseIRL

As part of our #CommunityResponseIRL campaign to showcase in the media the positive work that our members are doing, we have worked to collate, and elevate the work of charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprise across Ireland. We are in regular contact with the national media and are actively pitching our members’ stories to them on a daily basis.

We are pleased to report that this has been a great success so far – if you would like our support in securing media coverage please email sarahm@wheel.ie.

For more information on the campaign, and to see some of the positive stories which have been shared with us so far, please visit: www.wheel.ie/community-response

3)  Wage Subsidy Scheme

In relation to the Wage Subsidy Scheme, we continue to get an enormous number of queries from members both in terms of eligibility, and the operation of the scheme. Revenue continue to refresh their guidance and you can find the most recent update here

The practical operation of the scheme is quite complex. Many organisations have their own payroll departments, or outsourced payroll, and it is likely they will be able to handle technical issues. For those members who do not have such expertise available, we are looking at making such a service/support available. It is not yet in place but in the meantime, if you have any queries and/or would like help please contact our Director of Finance, Tony Ward at: tony@wheel.ie.

4)  Our Training Programmes: Online Learning

We have offered members a variety of opportunities for online learning, peer-support and networking over the past couple of weeks. We will continue to develop our online learning, resources & networks over the coming months, providing both up-to-date briefings on issues relating to the crisis and our regular training topics.

We will update members about our webinars and other online learning resources by email in the coming weeks. In the meantime, keep up to date with the latest calendar of events here: www.wheel.ie/training

5)  Confirmation received from Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI)

We are pleased to have received confirmation from the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) that relief measures to help address the impact of COVID-19 are available to nonprofit businesses and organisations, including charities, community and voluntary organisations, and social enterprises. Specifically,  BPFI informed us that its member retail-banks (AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank); non-bank mortgage lenders (Finance Ireland and Dilosk/ICS Mortgages); and credit servicing firms (Investec Private Finance Ireland Ltd, Lapithus, Link Group, Mars Capital, Pepper and Start) have put in place measures to help personal customers and businesses including not-for-profit businesses/organisations (retail banks only). Read more here

6)  COVID-19 Community Outreach

As you may recall from previous updates, we have been asked by Government to be part of the ‘Community Call’ which was launched by An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney on 2 April. We are now rolling out a COVID-19 Community Outreach programme, in partnership with Irish Rural Link, and our aim is to ensure that no one is left unsupported and isolated in their homes.

I’m pleased to report that we have now successfully deployed Community Champions in every local authority area. Our Community Champions are working closely with local community and voluntary organisations and local authorities to make sure that people who need help get it from trusted, experienced sources. This video, which features some of our Champions from across the country, explains how they can support your work.

If your organisation is delivering services in the community, I strongly encourage you to contact your local champion (if you have not done so already). Find your local Champion here

7)  Wheel.ie - a daily updated source of accurate information

Our amazing colleagues in The Wheel have completely revamped and reorganised our website so that the information you need about the various aspects of dealing with the COVID-19 emergency is close at hand and easy to find.

I encourage you to access the latest updates at: www.wheel.ie.

8)  The future …. What next?

Whilst it may seem to some to be soon to be talking of what next for our sector and for community action, I believe that this is a discussion that we in The Wheel - as the sector’s largest network of members – have a responsibility to initiate and lead on in these trying times.

Our most important duty is in listening and responding to our members, understanding the realities of your various and disparate circumstances; and we must do our best to interpret with you, the rapidly changing and uncertain external environment that is now set to be the new norm for all of us in every part of society. We collectively must work to influence and shape our future - before it is shaped for us. And so, we have begun to scope out internally how this stream of work can roll out over the coming weeks and months and, rest assured, I will come back to this in a future update.  

In the meantime, we would like to thank you for your continuing engagement with us as we work to represent and support you and all our members through this very difficult time.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, or our Director of Public Policy, Ivan Cooper (ivan@wheel.ie), if there are any issues that you believe we should be aware of, or prioritising.

 #CommunityResponseIRL

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

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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