Unashamedly business – but ashamedly not charity

SO THIS year George heralded a Budget that was “unashamedly” backing business. In Richard Crump’s article for Financial Director he raises the point that the Budget may have been driven more by politics than by economics. If that is true then then has our political capital diminished as ‘big society’ has become damaged goods or simply old hat and slipped further down the agenda? George did little more than give a passing mention to charity – unlike last year which was littered by provisions aimed at supporting a main pillar of the big society project.

It is a significant matter of worry that this year’s only reference to charities in the chancellor’s speech was rather negative. In the context of cracking down on evasion and excessive “morally repugnant” avoidance, George said it was only right that having capped benefits he should also cap tax reliefs. It appears we’ve gone back to the old norm of searching the supporting documents to find out how the budget affected the sector – dropping almost entirely out of the speech. And on searching there were a number of proposals relevant to charities; disappointingly many of these sector-specific measures were reiterations of previous government commitments.

With the UK continuing to be gripped in an economic vice the Budget left me feeling it was yes, unashamedly business – but ashamedly not for charity and social causes. Charity could be forgiven for fearing it is being disenfranchised and forgotten as a contributor to the UK’s economy.

Pre-Budget CFG highlighted a number of areas where the Treasury should look to improve the operating environment. We called for:
• Improvements to the tax and regulatory framework for charities
• legal structures around multi-employer defined benefit pension schemes to be addressed
• TUPE regulations and Fair Deal to be made to work,
• Correction of VAT and other anomalies which dramatically impact on market diversification.
Whilst the Chancellor pledged to prioritise a fairer, more efficient tax system, he failed to consider charities in this endeavour. As Richard Mannion put it in the aforementioned article, “Osborne was “papering over the cracks”, and felt the real problem was “…the sheer complexity of the UK tax system.”” I agree.

Osborne caused widespread alarm when he referenced the government’s plan to introduce a limit on all uncapped income tax reliefs, including those related to charitable giving. We have joined with NCVO, ACEVO and others in a campaign to exempt charitable giving from this cap. I encourage you to support the “give it back George” campaign because while the text of the document says it will “explore with philanthropists ways to ensure that this measure will not impact significantly on charities that depend on large donations” we have more questions than answers about what effect it will have on the aim – stated elsewhere in Government – of encouraging giving.

This measure could have a devastating effect on major gifts both in reducing the amount given and through tainting the donation with this erroneous link to avoidance and evasion, which I find unhelpful in the extreme.

The government has said that it will work with the charity retail sector to simplify the administration of Gift Aid for charity shops – although does not supply any further detail. Clearly measures that reduce complexity and ease the financial cost of compliance are to be welcomed. But the chancellor missed an opportunity to use technology to overhaul the Gift Aid system which could have potentially yielded more benefit to the sector as a whole.

There was some positive and helpful news with measures to ease the burden on claiming Gift Aid for small donations – increasing the amount from £10 to £20. The total amount of donations of £5,000 remains unchanged.

From April 2013 government will relax the Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR) on-lending requirements, which currently place conditions on the speed with which Community Development Finance Institutions must on-lend the funding they receive. New rules to allow investors to carry unused relief forward will also be introduced. This is a promising development but does not go far enough and will help in only a limited way.

With all the interest on social investment (I have covered the emerging, exciting market in this blog previously) it was surprising that it did not feature more heavily. The development of new and varied funding mechanisms is essential and has been a priority for some time. It is therefore promising that the budget document states that HM Treasury will conduct an internal review on social investment looking in to the financial barriers to social enterprise, but we are keen to see whether government is genuinely nurturing this evolving market and not just paying lip service to it.

The government will withdraw charitable buildings from the scope of the VAT reduced rate for the supply and installation of energy-saving materials. This is clearly a disappointing measure which will not support organisations to be more sustainable in terms of energy use.

As indicated by Danny Alexander at the recent NCVO conference, the Government has pledged £20m of funding for the not-for-profit advice sector in 2013-14, and again in 2014-15, to ‘support the sector as it adapts to changes in the way that it is funded’.

Government reiterated its commitments to provide a lower rate of inheritance tax, provide reductions in tax liability for donations of pre-eminent objects are made to the nation, amend Community Amateur Sports Clubs legislation, withdraw Self-Assessment Donate for tax returns 2011-12 onwards, introduce the VAT cost sharing exemption and put in-year repayments of tax to charities on a statutory footing. All good – but nothing new.

So while the chancellor offered no apology for the budget being for business I do think that it’s a shame charities and social investment were out of sight. Let’s just hope it is not a case of out of sight – out of mind.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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