Brexit: A survival guide for charities

At the end of last year, the UK agreed terms with the European Union on their future relationship. Cooperation, trade, travel and work were among issues hammered out.

This deal, signed on Christmas Eve, brought to a close the transition period following Brexit and meant the UK was spared a potential no-deal scenario of rising prices, financial hardship and tariffs.

Here we outline some of the immediate priorities that charities need to consider following the signing of the deal, as well as the risks to avoid and the possible opportunities to grasp.

We will also detail some of the emerging advice, tools and guidance available to help charities survive Brexit.

Brexit Checker Tool

A good starting point is the government’s transition website, which includes a Brexit Checker Tool for individuals, employers, charities and other organisations. It aims to give a tailored traffic light system detailing the action charities need to take.

After information is keyed in, the checker tool then delivers a series of links to the relevant official advice, such as trade or studying arrangements. It also details whether action to be taken is ‘urgent’.

Civil Society Forum

An important organisation for charity lobbyists to target is the Civil Society Forum, which is to be set up as part of the Brexit agreement.

Early details of the forum were published in the UK-EU Trade Cooperation Agreement, which specifies that the EU and UK will “consult civil society on the implementation of this Agreement and any supplementing agreement”.

The Forum aims to meet at least annually, including virtually to ensure it adheres to social distancing guidelines amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The agreement specifies the forum needs to “promote a balanced representation, including non-governmental organisations, business and employers ́ organisations and trade unions, active in economic, sustainable development, social, human rights, environmental and other matters”.

Keeping up to date on the formation of the forum and how to effectively lobby its members will be key for charities looking to influence the UK and EU for the benefit of their mission.

Among sector bodies already keen to know more about the forum is the Directory of Social Change.

Threats and opportunities

Brexit gives the UK government greater freedom to alter EU legislation that currently still applies to Britain. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has pointed out this could see laws worsened, with the wellbeing of beneficiaries negatively impacted. The umbrella body specifically highlights potential threats to employment rights as a cause for concern.

However, the UK government’s new freedoms could also create opportunities, the NCVO adds, for ministers to improve on EU legislation.

The NCVO says: “Charities will certainly need to be vigilant about rights and standards that have previously been protected at EU level, but the prioritisation of the ability to diverge from EU rules could provide opportunities in some areas.

“Where the EU approach could be improved, there is now a chance to persuade a government that is keen to demonstrate the advantages of being able to diverge, so it’s important to make sure that opportunity is taken.”

The NCVO has created a raft of online guides to help steer charities through Brexit. This covers advice for individuals, on funding, employment issues as well as volunteering.

Travelling and working in the EU

Changes to travelling and working arrangements is an immediate issue for charities to tackle, particularly if they have offices and partners across Europe.

Extra checks are now in place when travelling. Passports need to have at least six months left before they expire, for example.

Also those looking to stay in an EU country for more than 90 days need to check the relevant member state’s entry requirements.

This means travel time may be longer and fast track customs and passport checks are consigned to the past for UK travellers. But not all arrangements have changed, with a UK driving licence still valid in the EU.

UK citizens no longer have an automatic right to live or work in the EU. It is worth noting that UK charity workers who moved to an EU member state before the end of 2020 can carry on working there, but only if they register as a resident in the country they live in by the end of June 2021.

For charities where staff are used to travelling across Europe, Brexit could present opportunities to cut travel costs and instead keep staff in the UK and invest in video conferencing and work collaboration tools.

The Government’s website offers further information on travelling to the EU post Brexit.

Supporting EU nationals in the UK

EU nationals in the UK can protect their access to support as long as they apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, set up by the government to ensure they can continue to live and work in the UK.

Charities need to ensure that any staff or volunteers from the EU working for them can meet this deadline. EU beneficiaries supported by charities also need to ensure they apply, otherwise they could be cut off from access to support.

Centrepoint and AIRE Centre have warned that EU nationals in the UK could be at risk of homelessness if they do not apply.

Data regulation

Three years ago the General Data Protection Regulation acted as a wake-up call for charities and other organisations around the way they handle data.

This EU regulation set out to strengthen guidance around privacy and data protection.

GDPR still applies in UK law even after Brexit. But UK ministers still have independence to keep this frameweek under review, states the Information Commissioner in its advice around Brexit.

Further advice on what charities’ handling of data may be impacted around Brexit has been made available from the Directory of Social Change.

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