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Adapting through Covid and beyond

The housing sector was rocked by the coronavirus pandemic back in March 2020 and it is still experiencing the knock-on effects of the lockdown over a year on. From the outset, HYELM – we are a housing provider and registered charity which aims to address the shortage of affordable housing for young people and key workers in London – sought to continue offering support to its residents without interruption. I want to explain here how being both a charity and a housing association affected our response to the pandemic and what the key learnings have been throughout.

During the past year our focus has of course been on protecting both our residents and staff, ensuring they all have a safe and harmonious place to reside and work, and that no one is unfairly left without a home due to the pandemic and consequent lockdowns. For us, there is no question that this ethos and the way in which we have adapted over the past 18 months have predominantly been driven by the fact that we are a charity.

Our focus is on our residents, not profit. The choices we make are all about our residents and very early on we realised how serious an impact the lockdown were likely to have on those that live with us - key workers and those in entry level employment with no other means of financial support. So accepting our responsibility as not just a housing association but also a charity, we developed and deployed a bespoke Welfare Package.

Financial hardship

The package provided residents who were experiencing financial hardship with up to £50,000 worth of support, as well as rent deferments, detailed financial and employment advice, and access to an independent benefits adviser who was on hand to guide anyone that needed help navigating the benefits application process.

If eligible, a proportion of a resident’s rent would also be paid for by Universal Credit, with additional money to be lent through a repayment programme or - in some cases - granted by HYELM to provide extra financial support for purchasing essentials.

Due to our status, we’re able to reinvest the money we generate through rent and our commercial spaces into providing better facilities and services to support our residents. As part of our commitment to protecting the wellbeing of our residents, we explored offering a service that provides complimentary personal development training to those who had been furloughed, made redundant or had their hours changed. This was in order to ensure that the period of uncertainty in their lives could be used for personal and career growth.

We believe we’re more than just a place to stay. We’re a tight knit community and one where everyone looks out for one another. That’s why we also explored employment opportunities within our Old Street development for residents who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. This resulted in two residents joining part of the team and learning valuable, transferrable skills in the process.

At a time when it was reported that key workers were being refused rental agreements during the pandemic, our charitable ethos enabled us to offer convenient accommodation to those working on the frontline the result being that we rehomed three of London’s key workers in our Old Street development during the height of the crisis.

Dedicated page

Our management team aims to be as transparent as possible. It’s what we owe our residents as not only a housing association but also a charity. So, throughout the unsettling and worrying periods of lockdown and the ever-changing restrictions, we introduced a dedicated page on our website to keep both staff and residents up to date with the latest government guidelines. We also trialled offering a Resident Assistance Support Programme - a counselling service line that residents could use free of charge.

Whilst we have fantastic relationships with all our residents and always communicate that we’re here to listen, we appreciated that some residents would prefer speaking to a professional in the field, hence why we implemented the programme. The soft trial was a success, with positive feedback received, so as a result we’ll be rolling this offering out to our wider community.

A key learning from our experience navigating the effects of Covid has been how much investing in technology can improve your offering as a housing association. The past lockdowns severely pushed forward our agenda to move into the digital sphere and as a result we will now be launching a new housing management system.

Residents will be able to access all aspects of their account with us on the dedicated app, be it checking in on their rent statements, logging maintenance requests or communicating with the operations team. Not only does this improve the turnaround time on any requests or issues, but it also makes it incredibly convenient for our residents, many of whom will be using similar apps for other aspects of their life, for example banking.

Safer place

Another major benefit of investing in this technology - and one that sped the implementation process along - was that it makes our residence a safer place to live and work in whilst we’re all still at risk of infection. Residents and staff can all access a wealth of information remotely, meaning we can still provide our outstanding, personalised service, despite having reduced teams in the office on site.

As part of our investment in technology, a door entry intercom system was also rolled out earlier this year, meaning residents could talk to anyone who had rung the bell for them at the entrance on their phone anywhere in the world rather than only from their room. Adapting to suit the on-the-go lifestyle of our residents is helping to improve the overall experience of those living with us and there is no question that the implementation of these positive changes was hastened by the challenges of the pandemic

Whilst the last 18 months have been incredibly unsettling – it has shone a light on just how important the service we provide really is. Our ethos of being a charity and not just a housing association has meant we have always put our residents above anything else and as a result, our extremely passionate and dedicated management team has played a vital role in implementing a series of fantastic initiatives that have helped to bring both our team and our residents closer together.

Facing down the challenges to hospice care

Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice is a charity dedicated to providing free, high quality, compassionate care and support for people with terminal illnesses, their families, and their professional carers in the London Boroughs of Royal Greenwich and Bexley. The hospice cares for more than 2,500 people each year in the community - in their homes, care homes, in hospice beds, hospice-based clinics, local prisons and the local hospital.

GBCH only receives around one third of its funding from the NHS, which means that we depend on the generosity of our community to fund much of the care we provide for local people.

The hospice sector as a whole has faced great challenges. The double whammy of a global pandemic and the evaporation of charitable funds due to the shut down of non-essential retail and restrictions on events means it will have been the worst few years that many hospices will have ever known. Couple this with the ongoing effects that have been entrenched within care, and across the sector we have a recipe for crisis and, at the very least, burnout of both staff and supporting families.

However, at GBCH we remain optimistic. What we do, particularly within the community, is stand as a pillar of support for those who need palliative care and those connected to them.

Emergency preparedness

In terms of lessons learned at GBCH, we’ve learned that you can never plan too much! The work that we carried out in advance to support our emergency preparedness was incredibly helpful to give us a structure to prioritise, make decisions and communicate. Advice from NCVO early on gave us a system to follow for reporting to the board and providing necessary assurance.

Personally, the support of my chair was really important in ensuring a robust response through all of this. She did a great job providing a sounding board and helping to think about governance when the rest of the management team and I needed to focus on managing operational challenges.

I also can’t emphasise the importance of partnership working. Our good connections and networks, built before the pandemic took hold, were vital to ensure we got support and information in a timely way. This meant we were able to influence wider issues of care across all settings for people dying from all causes including Covi. These wider issues were related to the workforce and making sure we targeted our staff to areas of greatest need, access to essential supplies of PPE and access to earlier testing and vaccination.

The most important golden thread we found was engagement and communication throughout. We took the decision to be incredibly focused on communication and staff wellbeing. We found the best policy was to be as transparent and helpful as we could to everyone we encountered.

Standing as one

There’s a lot to be said for getting out there within your own community, and that’s something we’ve managed to spearhead in the past 18 months. By reaching out and standing alongside those in the same location or who have similar operations to you, there’s a sense that you can lean on each other and work together to achieve a greater good.

We have been integral in setting up the Palliative Care End of Life Network for Southeast London. The network we are creating there will emphasise the importance of striving for high quality care for all, innovating and improving the standard of care that exists across this area.

Through the network, more than 30 organisations are coming together, made up of a broad range of disciplines and experience. The group will share best practice and work together to address gaps, so strengthening communication between NHS trusts, hospices, local authorities, other charities and care providers and those needing our care.

Focusing on the same goals

Working together to improve palliative care in the area will help us to focus on the same goals of having a workforce which is confident and resourced to provide care to people facing end of life, and a community who have services which are appropriate and responsive to their needs and who are able to access support in a timely way.

Palliative care is truly holistic. Taking into account everything that affects how care is administered and treated along the patient journey is truly something which we can work to improve together as a network. To ensure the views of individuals are included is important and will help us build a better understanding and picture of what we want to achieve.

Remaining grateful

What’s become clear to us over this difficult time is that you can never say thank you enough, and the fact you have to celebrate the small successes. There have been some difficult times when staff were prepared to take some really scary personal risks, and it’s important to hear their worries, talk them through and allow them to step up, knowing they have support, if that is really what they want.

It’s become even clearer that you cannot make assumptions about people – some of our most vulnerable staff surprised us and wanted to step into face to face roles, and it would have been wrong not to let them. However, they had to do it with their eyes open and with the right protection. Early on it was hard to get the right PPE for example, and I saw that as my most important responsibility.

They needed to know what support would be there too, so getting our policies out quickly to let them know how we would manage periods of sickness and any other crunch issues around the time was incredibly important.

One way of remaining effective

The opportunities to try new things have been forthcoming, and we’ve grabbed the chance to embrace them. As we’ve adapted, we’ve continuously assessed whether the changes implemented are a good idea or not. Therefore having measures of success is integral to improvement. Getting user feedback on virtual consultations, for example, allowed us to be bolder about this, but also to target support and be more specific about who did and didn’t get virtual, compared to face to face.

We will be stronger as a result of the pandemic, and although everyone is tired, it feels like we are much clearer about our mission and core purpose – it’s been an opportunity to refocus on our values and really live those. As a result, we have a much stronger foundation on which to build for the future.

Self-care too

Finally, self-care is essential. I pretty much fell over back in January. Looking back, it’s clear I should have taken more breaks and at an earlier point. As ever, it’s easy to say and less easy to do. However, importantly, I felt appreciated and cared for by my board. Mental health is a real concern for many coming out of this pandemic and my chair has checked in with me regularly and been a huge support.

Although the fear and anxiety over the actual transmission and treatment of coronavirus are easing, the trauma and emotional baggage that has followed many people out of these past two years is real and will take time to heal.

It’s important as a charity that we recognise the signs of burnout, lasting trauma and depression that may have crept in subtly as we have been too busy to stop and think. Mental health is a buzz phrase at the moment, but those who take action to address it and help those suffering are the ones that will retain staff and really make a stamp on overall improvement.

We’ve had great support from our partners across Southeast London in this regard, and run our own wellbeing programme too. I think that has helped, but it can’t just be a one-off. We have to keep going and staff wellbeing is a cornerstone of our evolving strategy.

Meeting the challenge of boosting help during Covid

The Licensed Trade Charity is dedicated to providing support to those who are currently working or have previously worked in the drinks trade and their dependants. Established over 225 years ago, the charity provides a free helpline that offers support from trained counsellors. It delivers practical advice on issues including housing, finance, education, training, mental wellbeing and physical health. The charity works with a range of experts such as housing and homeless charity Shelter and career transition support firm Renovo meaning no problem is too big or small and specialists are always on hand.

The charity takes a holistic approach to support. This means we don’t just put a plaster over the problem; we find the root cause and seek to address it. For example, if someone is seeking financial help, we will work with them to see how their outgoings and bills can be reduced. All of this is achieved by a small but incredibly dedicated and hard-working team, who in the last year supported over 73,000 people.

As demand for support surged in light of the pandemic, we partnered with branded payments company Blackhawk Network to provide food vouchers as a means of immediate support for nearly 4,000 of those people in need.

Impact of Covid-19

No one has previously witnessed the disruption to the hospitality industry like that caused by Covid-19. All pubs closed on 20 March 2020 and at various points thereafter. While we knew that Covid measures were required, no one could have predicted the far-reaching impact the closures would have and how long the industry would be shut down for. The repercussions have been catastrophic; an estimated almost 6,000 licensed venues, including pubs, clubs and restaurants, closed permanently last year. This resulted in nearly 600,000 job losses across the sector in 2020.

As a result of the fallout, my team at the charity faced a huge influx in requests for support. Initially, calls came in from people who were worried about their finances, unsure how to get by and support loved ones without an income — this was before the furlough scheme was introduced. But calls quickly turned to the topic of mental health. Typically, people working in hospitality enjoy the personal interaction that comes with the job. To have this taken away was a big shock, leaving many workers expressing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Between March and June 2020, we saw our biggest ever peak in demand. Thousands of hospitality workers were facing an uncertain future and were unsure as to whether they could survive on a reduced income, even with furlough. Many people applied for support to ensure they could still provide food and necessities for their families. On more than one occasion, people had stated that they were so desperate they had to decide whether to “eat or to heat”, meaning they had to choose between buying food or paying their electricity bills.

In just two days we received nearly 4,000 applications for financial aid – as opposed to the usual 600 applications per year. While the team was determined to service as many people as possible, we knew we had a monumental task on our hands.

Legacy IT processes

Before the pandemic, we would process all applications for grants and support manually. This was because we had to ensure the applicants had met the eligibility criteria before individually distributing the required grant value.

Understandably, the influx of Covid related applications meant the team would not be able to replicate this manual operation thousands of times over and still provide time-sensitive aid. A new approach was essential, which is when we decided to turn to digital codes that can be exchanged for gift cards.

While providing supermarket gift cards was something we’d briefly done in the past, we found the process to be labour intensive and time consuming. It involved spending time on the phone with each supermarket to process each order. In addition, physical gift cards sent out in the post were often lost, causing the recipient to go without – something we couldn’t risk happening this time around.

We had struggled to find a fit-for-all organisation which could offer a range of retailers and brands to facilitate a wide variety of requirements. Previous schemes were centred around clothing shops, but these could not fulfil all the immediate needs of furloughed staff who were coming to us.

Using digital eCodes

In May 2020, while looking for a partner to meet demand, we received a recommendation from the Greene King team, who had worked with Blackhawk Network in the past and were happy with the results. We reached out to the provider, and as part of its Payment for Good solution once onboarded, we were equipped to manage the huge uptake in applications in just one week.

We used Blackhawk’s Select platform and were able to implement an entirely new system that enabled us to cope with demand. Select is a scalable, brandable, end-to-end reward platform that provides our recipients with a digital eCode, to be spent at a range of retailers.

Our beneficiaries were able to swap their eCodes for their choice of single and multi-retailer gift cards. The catalogue of brands available to them provided access to necessities such as food and clothes, and they could split the value across multiple shops, depending on what they needed most at the time. Depending on the delivery method chosen, recipients received their eGift within 24 hours, ready to spend as needed.

We were also able to work with the team at Blackhawk to agree on branding and the message for the eCodes that were sent out on our behalf. This meant we had total control over what they looked like and ensured we were providing our beneficiaries with the information they required. The onboarding process was simple, and the speed at which the provider operated and got us set up on its platform made a world of difference, to us and those we helped.

Onboarding success

As a result of all this, we were able to financially help nearly 4,000 people at a critical time. Once onboarded and fully set up on the platform, all further applications were processed within 72 hours, meaning that more people got the help – fast. In total, we awarded £952,855 in eGifts in 2020, with £466,200 awarded so far in 2021.

Because of how effectively the project was run, a further four licensed drinks trade companies approached us to support their staff while they were furloughed.

With ongoing redemption and query expertise from our partner’s customer service team, we can continue to focus on our own goals of reaching more people at a vulnerable time and raise awareness of the work we do.

Overall, everyone involved in the project walked away with a huge sense of achievement from helping licensed trade people during some of the toughest times of their lives. Often, the situation didn’t actually call for a huge sum of money, just enough to minimise the stress beneficiaries were facing and help get them back on their feet. As a result of the partnership, we learned how digitising processes meant we could work more efficiently and help those in need quicker.

Second campaign

Since the initial rollout, we have executed a second Select campaign with Blackhawk Network. Looking ahead, we continue to raise our profile within the sector and encourage more beneficiaries to turn to us for support when they need it. We can now rapidly respond to requests for financial help. While our in-house team is small, we are now more ambitious and driven to help those in need than ever.

Building a Covid safety toolkit

Covid-19 is here to stay - at least for the medium term - and that means we need to create processes and systems to enable us to operate our charities safely and without being overburdened.

One way to do that is to create a Covid safety toolkit, really a “living with Covid” approach to be applied by charity employers in the running of their operations. This is would be a software package of tools that will help you keep track of the changes and the ever-increasing regulation and actions you need to stay on top of.

For example, such a toolkit, and ideally it would be online, would help charity managers work through what’s needed and how to action it. It should provide a checklist, training and sample documentation. Although creating a toolkit may sound overwhelming, the good news is that none of these activities is new; they simply need to be used for the current situation.

Creating a toolkit

Building a toolkit is as simple as LEGO. Rather than creating individual processes and lots of standalone documents, you bring together, all in one place, every item you will need to respond to Covid.

For example, certain text could be created for multiple use, so it can be used on your website, in work manuals, in notices in the workplace, treatment areas or compliance documents.

Covid affects all parts of an organisation and requirements change rapidly. Imagine if you had to check and update them all, one at a time. The chances of missing one or keeping out of date information is quite high and the task is daunting.

That’s where a toolkit can help, and why it’s important for your charity to have one (whether you create it yourself or buy it in) and ensure everything you need is in one place.

Contents of a toolkit

A charity’s Covid safety toolkit should contain:

  1. A governance framework.
  2. Risk management including individual and group risk assessments.
  3. Action plans.
  4. Communications plans.
  5. A review and update plan.

It sounds extremely dry so let’s make it more user friendly:

GOVERNANCE. You need to decide who is in charge: who has oversight of all your Covid vulnerable activities; where does the buck stop? Many months into Covid, this has probably been done ages ago, so you might as well put it into your Covid Policy and make sure everyone knows it.

RISK MANAGEMENT. This is all the changes, adaptations and new ways of working you put in place in response to Covid, and hopefully you shouldn’t need to do them over again. If these are risk assessment based and clearly documented (a simple excel sheet will do - the key is clarity, not length. You can quickly check what needs updating if there is a local or national change in guidelines.

Most of your arrangements can probably stay as they are, but do you know which ones need to change and how? If your original assessment is at hand, in an easy-to-access document, you can revise it very quickly.

You may need to assess an individual person’s risks as well. For example, somebody who has recently had Covid will need different kinds of support than someone who has never had it, or someone who lives with an elderly relative.

Better understanding

Our general understanding of risks relating to specific groups - young people, healthcare workers, etc. - is much better than earlier in the pandemic and is constantly improving. You might want to fine-tune your risk groups at regular intervals. Again, this is where having a central document will save you time.

ACTION PLANS. This needs little explanation; it goes hand in hand with your risk assessment changes. If there’s been no change then no action is needed. If there has been a specific change in risk, then you’ll need to change the mitigation that helps reduce that risk.

If you do this by modules or sections for each area of your charity, each building or physical space or field of activity, you will be able make the changes much faster and you can also check that you haven’t missed anything.

A COMMUNICATONS PLAN. This is where Covid specific planning pays a lot of dividends. It is worth dedicating some time to this as it’s the area that is likely to change most often. Make sure you understand the different groups that you need to communicate with and listen to them actively.

Use templates

Also be very clear on what you want to say, and say as simply and straightforwardly as you can. Use templates where you can so that you can send out updates quickly and easily. And of course, make all communications timely using trusted sources of information such as the government websites.

Covid awareness/protection is essential. Your staff must feel that however government restrictions operate now and in the future Covid has been taken into account by your charity as their employer. That is why your communications plan is a vital part of your toolkit.

REVIEW AND UPDATE. There is no magic here; you simply need to check, and check again, at regular intervals what the current regulations are, and what you and your staff are required to do. You’ll also need to have evidence that you are carrying out your duties as an employer.

TOOLS TO HELP YOU. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks and tips you can use. These are not new, they are probably already familiar to you, and in Covid-19 vulnerable activities they are essential:

  • In electronic communications (websites, newsletters, chats, etc.) use links directly to the relevant government websites.
  • Use shared file systems (e.g. Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox) for templates and drafts.
  • Have a log of where these templates are kept and where they are used, to make sure you don’t miss one of them.
  • It takes an extra few minutes to get everything in one place when you start, but it will pay dividends many times over when you suddenly need to change something.

Supporting your staff

At the moment the whole burden of Covid protection (including ascertaining the disease) is undertaken by government through its regulations, but charity employers need to build into their employee wellbeing programmes additional support. This means for example, offering the facility of private testing, as is happening already with some commercial firms, or coordinating the use by your employees of free lateral flow tests supplied by the government.

But there are also the mental and other wellbeing aspects which need to be addressed. (This is no different from commercial firms pre-Covid offering all sorts of support outside the NHS, e.g. counselling, extra support after illness or accident, etc.)

So, charity employers should develop their own Covid support strategies, building and then adding to support systems. These will need to cater for the specific characteristics of charities, e.g. physical contact charities (care homes or day centres or when field workers are calling on people in their homes) will have different issues from charities just offering helplines or digital contact or research or grants.

It’s easy to get Covid-weariness and when that happens, we sometimes take our eye off the ball - it’s just human. But it’s another reason why a toolkit is essential. No doubt you already have a lot to contend with to keep your staff and clients/patients safe, and your charity running, so don’t give yourself extra work. Having a toolkit that means you don’t have to repeat work, or “reinvent the wheel” or worry that everything is up to date. It’s one less layer of stress on your shoulders.

Charities preparing for redundancies

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many charities very significantly and, in some cases, threatened their viability. Charities have had to manage their resources and staffing levels from a perspective of ensuring financial stability and survival.

Unfortunately, this has led to some charities having to reduce the size of their workforce and, given the planned closure of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) on 30 September 2021, it seems that more redundancies will follow.

In order to ensure they treat their employees fairly, avoid redundancies wherever possible and stay on the right side of the law, charities should think ahead and start planning for life after the end of the scheme.

The end of furlough

When lockdown measures were introduced in March 2020, organisations nationwide were forced to make immediate changes to their ways of working. The CJRS was set up as part of a package of measures designed to safeguard jobs and alleviate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on employers across the country.

Many charities have had to furlough employees under the CJRS, and it has provided a lifeline to them when they might otherwise have had to cut staff numbers drastically. Now is the time, however, for charities with employees on furlough to look ahead, consider what staffing levels they will need once the CJRS closes and decide whether redundancies might be necessary.

What is redundancy?

Under section 139 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, a redundancy situation is one where an employer closes down its business altogether, closes one particular workplace or has a reduced requirement for employees to undertake work of a particular kind.

Legal requirements

While redundancy is a potentially fair reason for an employer to dismiss an employee, in the context of an unfair dismissal claim (which employees with two years’ or more continuous service have the right bring), an employment tribunal will decide whether the employer’s decision to dismiss for that reason fell within the “band of reasonable responses” of a reasonable employer in those circumstances. Failure to follow a fair process will normally make a dismissal unfair.

In the context of redundancy, a fair dismissal will usually involve:

  • Warning and consulting employees.
  • Adopting a fair basis for selecting employees for redundancy.
  • Considering alternative employment.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to appeal.

It is vital for a charity employer to ascertain at any early stage how many employees it may need to make redundant. The number of employees is crucial because of the strict statutory duty to inform and consult collectively, which arises when an employer is proposing to dismiss for redundancy 20 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less.

Considering the alternatives

Charity employers should consider ways of avoiding the need to make employees redundant altogether, for example:

  • Restricting new recruitment.
  • Voluntary redundancy – this can be a good option for charities as it offers them the chance to help protect staff who are more dependent on their job. Employers should, however, balance this with the risk that seeking volunteers could mean losing their top performers (unless they make it clear that applications for voluntary redundancy will be considered but are not guaranteed).
  • Retraining and/or transferring affected employees to other work.
  • Moving affected employees to another workplace.
  • Cost-saving measures such as: short-time working and job sharing; reducing overtime; wage/salary cuts; limiting/removing discretionary benefits; unpaid leave/sabbaticals.

The consultation process

Charities should consult properly with those at risk of redundancy (and “appropriate representatives” where the collective consultation obligations mentioned above apply) before reaching a final decision.

What amounts to a reasonable and appropriate consultation process will vary somewhat according to the situation. In general, however, consultations should involve:

  • Holding meetings with employees to discuss the situation in detail.
  • Speaking to employees when redundancy proposals are still at a formative stage.
  • Giving employees adequate information on which to respond.
  • Giving employees adequate time in which to respond to the information.
  • Conscientious consideration of proposals/ideas put forward by employees.

Following a careful and well planned redundancy consultation process should help to minimise the risk of legal claims against the charity (e.g. for unfair dismissal, breach of contract or discrimination) and maintain good relations with all staff whether they are selected for redundancy or not, hopefully minimising any adverse impact on the charity.

At the end of the consultation period, the charity will need to confirm who (if anyone) it is making redundant and whether an alternative to redundancy for certain roles has been found.

In cases involving collective consultation obligations, redundancy dismissals cannot take effect under after set statutory time periods have elapsed (30 days where the employer is proposing to dismiss 20 or more, but fewer than 100, employees).

Once a particular role has been confirmed as redundant, the charity should consider whether there are any other vacant roles within the organisation that the employee could be considered for. It is important that employers do not make any assumptions about what roles an employee faced with redundancy might be interested in and should provide details of all vacancies for the employee to consider.

Communication is key

Throughout any redundancy process, it is absolutely crucial for charities to keep in regular contact with all members of staff; both those who are at risk of redundancy and those who are not (but who may, nevertheless, be unsettled by the situation). This can be as simple as regular meetings (virtual meetings are fine in the current climate) or telephone calls.

Redundancy pay

In order for an employee to be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment, they will need to have been continuously employed for a period of two years or more.

A statutory redundancy payment is calculated as follows:

  • 1½ weeks' pay for each complete year of employment in which the employee was not below the age of 41.
  • 1 week's pay for each complete year of employment between the ages of 22 and 40 inclusive.
  • ½ a week's pay for each complete year of employment in which the employee was under the age of 22.

A week's pay is capped by statute at £544 and a maximum of 20 years of employment are taken into account for each employee.

Employees who are redundant will also be entitled to notice pay (whether they work their notice periods or receive payment in lieu of notice) and payment in lieu of any accrued but untaken holiday when their employment ends.

Employee rights

Any employee on maternity leave or shared parental leave whose job is made redundant has the right to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy first. Otherwise, if an employer has more than one other potentially redundant employee interested in an alternative role, it can undertake a competitive interview process to decide to whom to offer the role.

Employees who do not feel that they are being treated fairly or legally should be given the opportunity to raise any objections or counter arguments during the consultation process or at any meetings. They should also be allowed a right of appeal against any decision to make them redundant.

Where an employee wants to bring an employment tribunal claim against their employer (or former employer) arising out of a redundancy process (e.g. an unfair dismissal claim where the employee has two years’ or more continuous employment), they will need to make an early conciliation notification to ACAS, the independent government body that deals with employment disputes.

Looking ahead

Sadly, it is likely that the next few months will see an increase in charities being forced to make redundancies, particularly as the CJRS comes to a close. By preparing early, however, charities across the country will be able to do the best they can - not just for their own futures but for those of their employees too.

Ensuring enough funding through coronavirus

For many charities across the UK, fundraising efforts have been profoundly impacted by Covid-19. Some may have been affected in a positive way – benefiting from the abundance of new government loans and grants now on offer. However, for many, securing funds in the current climate is a struggle that has engulfed the sector.

The contrast between having access to limited resources and still needing to provide all-important services – some of which have experienced increased demand since the start of the pandemic – is a challenge that’s pushing many charities to the brink of dissolution.

Some charities will be lucky enough to have built up reserves over recent years that has allowed them to financially fight the impact of Covid-19. But for those that rely heavily on a steady stream of fundraising events and initiatives to keep them afloat, lockdown has had an undeniable impact on their financial stability.

While the criteria for accessing grants is widening, the government provision of funding remains an extremely competitive process.

Although charities cannot rely solely on this source of income, there are measures charities can take to secure support to ensure they make it out the other side of the pandemic and remain operational.

Exploring all options

As a direct response to Covid-19, the Government has provided £750 million worth of financial support for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. This includes £150 million sourced from dormant bank accounts and building societies, as well as £85 million from the Community Match Challenge, where donations from philanthropists, foundations and grant-making organisations are matched by the Government on a pound for pound basis.

While applications to the National Lottery £200 million Coronavirus Community Support Fund are now closed, the National Lottery Community Fund continues to offer grant opportunities for charities in emergency situations. Charities with shops can also apply for retail grants and funding under the furlough scheme, which will help them to keep staff employed and shop fronts open long term.

At a regional level, many local authorities will also allow charities to apply for discretionary grants, with several funds having widened their remit to provide additional funding to organisations. Councils can also cover the costs or provide grants for personal protective equipment (PPE) when requested to ensure charities can continue to operate in a safe manner.

It’s important charities remain proactive in recognising when new funds become available and the deadlines when they need to apply. Most of the windows for application are incredibly short so it’s easy to miss out on opportunities to secure funding if you don’t stay up to date with the changes in government initiatives.

Applying for funding

Due to the severity of the pressures faced by charities as a result of the pandemic, funders are being inundated with requests for support. As they only have a finite amount of resource to help charities, the selection process has become a lot harder and many funders have tightened their requirements.

To increase their chances of success, charities should include lots of examples and pictures in their applications to really showcase the good work they do. Questions should be answered fully, and charities should clearly demonstrate how the funds will be used in a concise cash flow forecast. This also shows good financial practice and makes it easy for funders to see what they’ll be supporting.

Charities should put themselves in the funder’s position and ask – why should we get funding over everyone else? Is our need and requirement more than others? How do we meet the brief? All these factors need to be considered by the charity if they stand any chance of securing funding.

Another way to increase their chances is to not send the same application to everyone. It’s important that charities tailor their pitches and ensure their examples meet the funder’s objectives.

Assessing a deal

Before applying for funding, charities should look at the application’s terms and conditions very carefully as there may be reporting requirements, as well as outputs, they need to achieve if successful – failure of which could be very serious.

Charities’ management teams should go through these carefully and assess exactly how they will adhere to the terms and if they’re achievable. Reasonable terms would be those that are within the charity’s reach and abilities and not overly costly to achieve. Unreasonable ones are those that are more geared towards the larger charities where they may have the expertise in-house that small charities may have to pay for, which can defeat the objective.

Implementing a strategy

The situation that charities currently find themselves in means cash can run out very quickly. Donations are not coming in as much as they’d like and the need for quick decisions is vital so charities can decide what their next move should be.

Funders often have a rigid structure in place as to when board meetings are conducted, when decisions are made and how quickly they can release funds. This means a quick decision often isn’t possible, so charities should implement a funding strategy to ensure they’re not overly reliant on any one source of income. They should have a plan B and C to fall upon should they not be successful in receiving funding.

There are practical things a charity should do to cope, including: conducting a detailed cash flow on a week-by-week basis so they can forecast as far as possible whether there’s going to be a cash emergency; having a cost cutting strategy in place to ensure only critical expenses are incurred; approaching other funders at the same time to spread the risk; and establishing how much reserves are to be used to get them through the tough periods.

Looking to local businesses

While many companies continue to operate remotely – which means many of their fundraising efforts for charities have been placed on the backburner – there are still ways for them to raise donations while remaining socially distant.

Virtual coffee mornings and raffles are a great way to not only fundraise for struggling charities, but also to get teams that are working remotely to engage and come together for a common cause.

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of community spirit. People are looking for ways to help others through this difficult time, so you’d be surprised by how many businesses would be happy to help with fundraising efforts if approached.

Charities can’t be afraid of asking local businesses to get involved – whether they be regular donors or those which are new to the charity. Especially if you provide them with fun, Covid-safe ideas to raise money, this can be launched as a way to encourage communication and collaboration among staff members, while working to support a worthy cause.

Creating a community

Charities should not only look for support within their community of local businesses, but also engage with other charitable organisations which are operating in the area for advice and guidance on how to navigate these difficult times.

Forming a strategic alliance between charities can be mutually beneficial – both in terms of knowledge sharing and attracting funds. By forming a partnership, charities can work together to increase or combine their public interest and ensure that charitable benefits continue to be applied at a local level.

A report by the Office for Civil Society stated that economic hardship and a growing sense of local identity was fuelling demand for “place-based” giving in the UK. With this in mind, local charities should work together to boost awareness of the services they provide across the region. This, in turn, should help them to secure funds.

Merging for money

Charities with similar aims should consider working together and creating a strategic alliance. Even if it’s only a one-off project, this can help charities to save costs while still delivering the same level of output, gaining efficiency from working together.

Alternatively, charities seeking more drastic measures may considering formally merging with another charity completely. They could also pass their reserves over to another charity with similar aims which might be able to make better use of them while being in a stronger financial position.

These options may seem drastic, but sentiment, perhaps, needs to be set aside and consideration for maximising the delivery of charitable aims brought to the centre.

Merging charities should be a serious consideration. It’s important that charities should be prepared to acknowledge that in the long term, a merger could better achieve their aims and, ultimately, serve the best interests of the community they serve.

A multi-faceted approach

There are a number of options available to charities which are in need of additional funding and, although these may not always be the most desirable ways to secure support, they can, ultimately, lead to the continued provision of important services.

While this is an incredibly difficult time for charities, there are a variety of resources available to help them mitigate the impact of Covid-19. Now, more than ever, charities need to be tapping into every pocket of potential resource and encouraging communities to come together – and collaborating among themselves – to unite for the greater good.

Insurance for charity homeworkers

Covid-19 has had devastating impacts on the charities sector and individual charities’ finances. Many are operating on a working from home basis. Others have furloughed their staff but continue to deliver services with the support of volunteers. Rent and other overheads are still being paid on premises often standing empty.

One constant backdrop to this story is insurance and whether and how various scenarios within the “new normal” for charities are covered. Does insurance have to be increased, or could it be scaled down and are the insurance policies a charity needed pre-Covid the same as those required now?

Homeworker safety

Under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employer responsibilities for homeworker safety do not differ from the duty of care required for office workers. A charity’s legal responsibilities for their workers’ health, safety and wellbeing are identical.

A charity’s employers’ liability insurance will protect homeworkers and may have covered some charity staff who worked from home before the pandemic. A typical proposal form will have asked for details of clerical and manual staff, so cover should be in place, if all employees were included and roles have not changed. It is advisable to double check.

From here, a charity must do more than merely allow staff to work from home. A proactive approach is essential, making sure homeworkers have a suitable working environment, in terms of lighting, heating and seating. Insisting on regular breaks, of at least five minutes per hour, to move, stretch and take a screen break, is important.

Whilst charities cannot visit homes to carry out staff risk assessments, they should ask employees to complete their own risk assessments, according to a provided checklist.

Mental health and homeworkers

Awareness of mental health impacts has been heightened during the pandemic. Charities must monitor their employees’ mental health, whether homeworking or furloughed. Watching for signals is essential, with key areas being mood, unusual mistakes and acting out of character. Homeworkers should be frequently contacted and engaged in day-to-day operations and not allowed to feel isolated.

Homeworkers’ own insurance policies

Employees should tell their home insurer if they are working from home. Typically, that notification should suffice, particularly if the work handled is clerical. Many insurers have taken a sympathetic attitude during Covid-19 and agreed not to increase premiums for those working from home or using cars for work reasons. Some might say “quite so”, because homeworking is doing insurers a favour. Properties that might have been targets for burglary during working hours are now occupied all day.

But not all homeworkers are sitting at desks. A charity may have maintenance staff working from an outbuilding or shed at home and, if that is the case, extra care should be exercised. Any hot work, for instance, would need to be mentioned to the home insurance provider and checks also made as to whether any outbuildings are sufficiently covered on the property’s insurance policy.

Charity equipment

If a charity has provided equipment for those working from home, it should ensure it has all-risks cover in place and that the individual addresses of its employees are noted on the insurance schedule. Many policies will refuse to cover equipment, unless the address at which it is being used has been specified. Others may have an extension that allows for a certain sum insured to kept at employees’ homes. It is important to check.

If equipment is being supplied to home workers, it must be safe and fit for purpose. Any defects that cause harm to the employee could result in a liability claim.

Third party interactions

Any interaction that a home worker has with a third party, as a result of handling a work related task, should be covered by the charity’s insurance policy. For instance, if a homeworker drops a five-pack of printer paper needed for work and breaks the delivery person’s foot, the charity’s policy would need to pick up any liability claim.

A charity’s public liability policy will have no geographical limits, so regardless of where the incident occurs, the claim should be covered, if the incident is work related. If it is not, the claim would have to be settled by the worker’s own property owners’ liability protection - part of their home insurance policy.

Data protection

One thing charities need to be especially vigilant about, in an era of homeworking, is data protection and the way sensitive data – often held by charities dealing with the vulnerable – is safeguarded.

Charities must be clear about their data protection policies. Regardless of how safe homeworkers believe their property to be, laptops should be locked whenever left unattended. Documents must be shredded, if that is how they would have been handled in the office. Strong password protection should be used and passwords used for virtual meeting log-ons.

Phishing and hacking have increased during the pandemic, due to cyber criminals recognising that many workers are no longer operating behind strong firewalls. It is vital for charity employees to take every precaution to keep data safe and avoid GDPR repercussions. Check virus protection is the latest version available, and that staff only use charity laptops.

Also, if staff are still able to work in the field and use public hotspots, it is worth investing in a VPN service, to prevent hackers entering your systems, by diverting signals between their computer and the public hotspot’s server.

Cyber insurance was becoming a priority for many businesses pre-pandemic and is highly relevant now. Such insurance can provide compensation should websites be seriously interfered with or data lost, but also provide valuable IT expertise, to restore operations quickly.

Charity premises

Whilst, under normal circumstances, leaving premises unoccupied on a long term basis would invalidate insurance cover, insurers are currently regarding business premises as being “temporarily closed”. In return, they expect property owners to try to inspect the building at least weekly and to put security measures in place.

Alarms, fire alarms and any sprinkler systems should all be in working order and heating should be left running to prevent freezing pipes. Mail should be picked up and waste removed - and moved some distance from the property.

Although insurers are taking this approach during Covid-19, charities should check their mortgage or lease agreements to make sure they are abiding by their terms. This is essential, if a charity is hiring out premises. In that scenario, it may also require property owners’ liability insurance.

Liability and professional indemnity

Tempting though it may be to stop paying for public liability protection or a professional indemnity premium, charities must remember such covers pick up the costs of claims not just from current actions but past ones too. If you cancel your policy, such retrospective claims would not be considered. Only claims made after the start date of your next policy would be covered. The message here is, “mind the gap” and do not create one, by cancelling cover.

Remember that even if all staff are furloughed, employers’ liability protection still needs to be in place.

Diversification of activities

If a charity has diversified or “pivoted”, it is essential it advises its insurer of any changes. Even what may seem like an innocent switch in operations or activities undertaken, could fundamentally alter the risk and would be deemed a “material fact”, which should have been notified. An insurer could easily turn down a claim, if it discovered any undeclared changes to the charity’s operations.

Trustees’ insurance

Trustees may find themselves more exposed during these trying times, with decisions relating to the charity’s direction resulting in actions being taken against them personally. Having charity trustees’ indemnity protection in place will protect a trustee’s personal finances, in cases of financial and administrative liability. With redundancies being a hotbed for potential litigation, such insurance makes great sense.

Volunteers and insurance

Charities can take on volunteers and furloughed staff from one charity are legally able to volunteer for another, as long as this is not a “swap” of staff and thus against HMRC rules. If charities take on new volunteers, there are things to consider.

Firstly, if there is an insurance policy covering volunteers, does it have any upper or lower age limits? Secondly, are these volunteers driving charity vehicles? If they are, the charity needs to arrange their insurance cover. If they drive their own vehicle, insurance is their responsibility.

All volunteer activities should be reviewed through a risk assessment and volunteers regarded with the same duty of care as employees.

Volunteers insurance?

Finally, at a time when volunteers are doing so much to assist our communities, some food for thought. Volunteers insurance is not a requirement in UK law and volunteers are often grouped with employees under a general employee liability policy or covered under a public liability policy (but charities should check). However, given the input and valuable work done by volunteers during the pandemic, perhaps it is time that specific insurance became mandatory to protect such selfless citizens?