Charities must prepare for Brexit uncertainty

With the controversial internal market bill receiving the backing of MPs this week, Brexit has returned to the top of the political agenda.

Since the UK left the European Union at the end of January, trade talks have been rumbling away. In recent weeks the talks have stalled and Boris Johnson has proclaimed the UK ready to walk away if no deal is struck by 15 October.

What does all this mean in real terms? Quite simply, that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is greater than ever. NCVO has been clear for some time: a no-deal outcome could cause serious harm to communities across the UK. If this was true before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it is even more so now. After an unprecedented year which has already caused significant damage to charities and to the communities with which we work and the charities and volunteers that support them, the addition of a no-deal Brexit could have severe consequences.

In January, we produced comprehensive guidance for charities on what a no-deal exit means as well as recording a webinar in association with DCMS. The information within remains relevant and important, and in this blog we’ve summarised the key issues for you.

Charities must act now to ensure that we are as prepared as possible for significant levels of disruption. With the effects of the coronavirus pandemic already posing significant challenges to our sector, it is vital that we are prepared for change so that we can play our part in the national recovery effort in the months and years ahead.

1. People

The EU settlement scheme allows EU citizens to apply for ‘settled status’ in the UK, granting them the same rights as they enjoyed before the referendum. No Brexit scenario should affect the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK.

Apply for the settlement scheme before 30 June 2021. You can find more information on GOV.UK.

Our blog on the new immigration system sets out the concerns many charities have, particular those in health and social care, while research from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) has highlighted the impact that Brexit could have on the charity workforce.

See more on EU Nationals, Charities and a no-deal Brexit.

2. The Economy

We are living through hard times. The economy is shrinking, unemployment growing and inequality widening. In such times, need is greater than ever, and the work of charities indispensable. Voluntary organisations must do everything they can to remain financially robust in order to cope with the needs of beneficiaries and support our communities. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose major challenges to public health and the economy, a no-Brexit could put us all in a concerning situation. A decline in the pound, a continuation to the decreased inflation rate, rising prices and supply chain disruption have all been predicted by economists in the longer term as a result of no-deal. All could have direct and indirect impact on charities’ work. Household costs, imports and medication supplies remain unaffected through the transition period, but remain under threat if a no-deal outcome occurs.

3. Funding

Funding remains the most unclear of all areas related to Brexit. Leaving the EU will mean leaving all of its institutions and funding streams, currently estimated to be at least £258m per year for charities. The government will underwrite the cost of all EU-funded projects from the 2014-2020 cycle, and will continue to approve European Social Fund projects for their entire project life.

A consultation on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund seems increasingly unlikely with its probable inclusion in the forthcoming Devolution White Paper and October’s comprehensive spending review expected to set the total envelope for the fund. NCVO will be shortly be publishing a paper on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), calling for a fund designed around places and needs.

If the UKSPF is not well resourced or attempts to roll too many areas into one fund (it seems likely that it may focus disproportionately on capital expenditure), the loss of EU funding could have concerning ramifications for charities. Simultaneously, public services may cease to exist in many areas, leaving the onus on charities to expand their work just as their funding diminishes.

See more on funding and Brexit.

4. Volunteering

There is currently no guarantee that membership of the European Voluntary Service will remain open to British citizens and organisations, with particular fears around programmes such as the Erasmus+ scheme.

Changes to the current visa regime notwithstanding, EU citizens looking to volunteer in the UK will have to apply for Tier 5 (charity) visas through a registered volunteering provider. For those volunteering in the EU, much depends on the future relationship the government negotiates with the EU and what access the UK is granted to various institutions.

See more on Brexit and volunteering.



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Avatar photo Ben Westerman is a senior external relations officer at NCVO, leading on Brexit work.

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