The challenges and genuine opportunities offered by the new Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) were the focus of conversation in Kerry charity circles last week.
Representatives of dozens of community and charity groups from around Kerry gathered in Killarney on Wednesday last, November 4 for a special CRA information session, run in conjunction with the Kerry Volunteer Centre.
Set up in October 2014 a total of 8,000 organisations with a CHY Revenue tax exemption number were placed on the CRA register automatically, with a requirement to complete their details. To date over 4,500 of those groups have completed or are in the midst of completing the process. Charities not holding a CHY number and all new charities are also required to register.
The session, which was led by Head of Registration & Reporting at the CRA Eamon O'Halloran, gave Kerry groups practical advice on registration process and requirements around annual reporting.
In his talk Eamon O'Halloran described the Register as an occasion for Kerry charities to demonstrate that they are "transparent, accountable" and operating to the highest standards of governance. He also said it encouraged donors and volunteers to support charities and their work.
Eamon O'Halloran said the focus of the session was to provide support and guidance: "We're delighted, to go out and meet people- these groups do fantastic work in their communities, fantastic work on issues they are passionate about. The vast majority are volunteers, doing it in their spare time.
"It's important to listen to their stories and also to understand their challenges, and how we fit within that. One of our key aims is to make sure the burden placed on small and voluntary organisations in particular is balanced and proportionate," he added.
As part of the session the audience in Killarney was given practical advice on how to register on the site and the filing of annual reports. The four key steps outlined were: creating a user account on the online system; completing registration details; filing annual activity and financial reports and the ongoing maintenance of details on the Charity Register.
In his presentation the CRA spokesman clarified the information required to create a charity account. These details include:
• Charity Details; for example name and date established
• Charitable purpose; for example the relief of poverty or advancement of education
• Charity address
• Details of all the current trustees
• Documents including the mandatory Constitution or Governing Document
• And finally a declaration which must be downloaded and signed by trustees before being saved to the charity account.
Not all the information provided can be seen by the public, and charities were told to look out for the 'eye symbol' which shows the information that will appear on the public register.
Eamon O'Halloran clarified that annual reports must be uploaded within 10 months of a charities financial year end date. This annual report will include details on activities carried out during the reporting year, a description of a charity's activities in this period, any beneficiary groups and the average number of employees and volunteers.
In terms of the Financial report groups at Wednesday evening's session in Killarney were told to include:
• Gross Income in Ireland
• Sources of Income
• Gross Expenditure in Ireland
• Types of donation income
• Expenditure on salaries
The CRA team also advised that the number and types of documents needed depend on the gross annual income of the charity. For example a charity with a gross annual income of less than €10,000 is not required to provide any accounts, while a charity with an income between €10,001 and €100,000 must provide income and expenditure accounts as well as a statement of assets and liabilities.
Only a charity with a gross annual income of more than €100,001 is required to provide a full set of audited accounts for the reporting period.
Once details of the annual report are uploaded a final declaration has to be made stating the details to be complete, that the person is authorised to make the report and that the charities details are fully up to date.
Outside the reporting period charities are also welcome to maintain their information on the Register on an ongoing basis, including changes of address, trustees, bank accounts etc.
The presentation by the CRA team was followed by a Q&A session. Key questions at the Kerry session revolved around the needs of individual charities and the regulating of fundraising as well as technical advice on the information groups need to provide for their annual report and uploading documents.
During the Q&A groups expressed uncertainty around whether or not they would be seen as a charity, and as such would need to register.
In response Eamon O'Halloran explained that to qualify groups must have a charitable purpose and must be fully for public benefit. He advised that general ad hoc fundraising, for example to support a local family in distress, was not a charity but private fundraising. Equally groups such as sports clubs, chambers of commerce, trade unions and political parties are not deemed to be chartable organisations.
Currently the CRA does not regulate fundraising but Eamon O'Halloran suggested that Kerry charities adopt best practice wherever possible with people fundraising on their behalf; for example asking them to keep account of their fundraising activities and in return letting them know what they have done with the money raised.
As an online Register, some anxiety was expressed by smaller charities at the meeting who might struggle with broadband or who have limited computer skills.
In response Eamon O'Halloran said that work had already begun collecting details of larger Kerry charities, with IT facilities and expertise, who are willing to assist as 'helper organisations'. Any groups interested in getting involved with this work have been urged to make contact with the CRA.
Concern was raised about the ongoing difficulty of attracting volunteers particularly for skilled roles such as treasurer. Groups expressed misgivings that it would become even more difficult to attract suitable volunteers as a result of the Charity Register and the new regulations.
Responding Eamon O'Halloran said the CRA would do everything in its power to minimise the negative impact of the extra burden on volunteers but stressed that the CRA had been introduced under legislation and "can't just go away".
Manager of the Kerry Volunteer Centre Geraldine Sheehan accepted that the Register was a challenge but said it was also an opportunity for groups to step up, to show their bona fides to the public who support them.
She thanked the team from the CRA for their visit to Kerry: "It's very important that local groups have access to experts in the area and we appreciate the reassurances they have given. We know now that they will be back to Kerry, that they are here to support and work charities and that they understand.
"They have shown that they open to hearing the local experiences and what the challenges are, so all in all it was a very positive event and we're very hopeful to have similar events in Kerry going forward," she concluded.
Written by Mary Murphy.
Tags: Charities Act