Coronavirus update from the regulator

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Maureen Mallon from OSCR gives guidance for charities on how to cope with the coronavirus outbreak 

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16th March 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

There are many sources of information about Coronavirus.  All charities should read the guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Scottish Government. The guidance includes advice for non-healthcare settings, including tips that apply to people working in hospitality settings, leisure facilities, entertainment venues and premises used by community groups.  NHS inform will give you the latest public health advice.

One of the most important things are the basic hygiene measures that you can take to help prevent the spread of the infection.  These include:

routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces such as telephones, keyboards, door handles, desks and tables
basic hand washing is highlighted as the most effective way of preventing the spread of infection. Hand hygiene promoted by ensuring staff, contractors, service users and visitors have access to hand washing facilities and alcohol-based hand rub, where available
crockery and cutlery in shared kitchen areas should be cleaned with warm water and detergent and dried thoroughly
ensuring food such as crisps and sandwiches should not be left open for communal sharing unless individually wrapped.

For charities, there are some specific concerns that we have become aware of, and we will cover those briefly here.

What if I have to cancel my AGM or other key events/meetings?

The Coronavirus is likely to have an impact on a number of events over the next wee while. This might include the holding of your AGM. This might make it difficult for you to finalise your annual reports and accounts.

Wherever possible, we would ask you to try to get these to us on time, All you need to do is log on as usual and scan us your reports and accounts.  However, we understand that it might be difficult for some and we will take an understanding and proportionate approach to this. 

It may be that by postponing your AGM, you are not fulfilling what it says in your governing document.  However, we would be understanding and proportionate about that.  We would still ask you to send as much as you can by your deadline, where possible. 

While we are currently not planning to extend filing deadlines, we will continue to look at this issue and see how we can best support the sector at this difficult time. 

Maureen Mallon

Maureen Mallon

What if my charity could do something to help people directly in our community, but our governing document would prevent us from doing so?

It is a great sentiment to want to do everything you can to help your communities. However, it is one of the basics of charity law to follow your governing document and make sure that your charity is working within its purposes. There are many charities who might be better placed than your own to respond in particular circumstances.

On the other hand, you may be uniquely placed to deliver a service or support to a particular community, and a temporary change to your purposes would allow you to do so. For such cases, we will put in place a process aimed at approving such changes as quickly as possible. If you feel you fall into this category, you should get in touch with us as soon as you think you want to make some changes. 

What if the current situation has a negative impact on my charity?  Should I be reporting it to OSCR as a notifiable event?

Our notifiable events regime was set-up in order that we might play a role in minimising the impact of serious problems and issues on charities. By hearing about serious problems at a relatively early stage, the aim was to play a more preventative and facilitative role. Notifiable events do not cover every incident, only those that may have a significant impact on your charity.

The same would apply in the current situation. We would only need to hear about something if it was likely to have a serious impact on your charity in the longer term.  It might be that your significant fundraising activity for the year takes place at a time which means it has to be cancelled. This might be significant in terms of you being able to carry on with your activities and you would want to report that to us.

However, don’t worry. Reporting does not need to be at the very top of your list. Making sure you have the time and space with your fellow trustees to make the right decisions for your organisation is the main thing to be thinking about.  As always, make sure you are recording the decisions you make and the reasons for them. And, if your trustees do think it is going to have a significant impact on your charity, then let us know as soon as you can. 

I have heard that people are using the crisis as a way of trying to defraud people?  Is that true?  What can I do to prevent it?

A crisis is a great time to try to exploit people’s fears and vulnerabilities. This crisis is no different. There have been some attempts by cyber-criminals to target industries and individuals, usually for short or longer-term financial gain. A recent BBC article highlighted some of these campaigns, and it is worth a read. 

We produced a Fraud and Cybercrime factsheet, which outlines some of the basic things you need to be thinking about to avoid becoming a victim of scammers.

Anything else I should be thinking about?

We will continue to review information and analyse the different queries and worries that are coming into us.  Where we think it will help, we will publish extra information. In the meantime, keep reviewing the Scottish Government information. This is updated daily and will give you a good overview of what you should be thinking about as charity trustees.

Further sources of information

- SCVO has created a good source of information for voluntary organisations that they will keep updated.   
- Additional guidance and information, including links to guidance for travellers and the general public, can also be found on Health Protection Scotland’s COVID-19 page.
- The latest numbers of COVID-19 test results are published at 2pm each day on the Scottish Government website.
- Updates on public health advice for COVID-19 can be found on the NHS Inform website, and a free helpline has been set up for those who do not have symptoms but are looking for general health advice: 0800 028 2816.
- For anyone who is planning to travel abroad, guidance can be found on fitfortravel. Where a COVID-19 risk is identified, country pages will be updated.

Maureen Mallon is chief executive of OSCR