Trustees and personal liability
You may be concerned about the solvency of your organisation, and about the possibility of personal financial liability if you continue to operate. The risks will be different depending on the legal structure of your organisation and if you are a charity.
New legislation was introduced in June 2020 to help organisations at risk of insolvency (being unable to pay their debts). The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 applies to:
- companies (including charitable companies and CICs)
- mutual organisations
It has relaxed corporate governance requirements and introduced certain changes to help organisations in financial difficulty to continue trading and explore their options. See further guidance from English law firm Bates Wells.
For trustees of unincorporated associations and trusts there is a risk of personal liability if the organisation becomes insolvent and there are debts or liabilities outstanding.
The Coronavirus Scotland Act aims to support trustees in this situation by increasing the moratorium period from six weeks to six months- this is a period of time when creditors cannot try to reclaim money they are owed. If you are a trustee of an organisation in this situation find out more information on the Accountant in Bankruptcy website.
You should take professional advice if you think your organisation may become insolvent. SCVO member organisations are entitled to up to two hours free legal advice from our Pro Bono Service.
OSCR have guidance on trading subsidiaries in financial difficulties, use of reserves and restricted funds, and Notifiable Events.
As restrictions change, managing risk is vital. With all risks the key is to identify, evaluate, manage, record and review. Key operational risks to consider include
- safeguarding beneficiaries
- changes to service provision
- staff and volunteers returning to premises
- finance and funding
- legal and regulatory
Your organisation should already have a risk register and a proactive approach to risk management. There is much uncertainty, risks can be linked and have a ‘domino’ effect, so you need to monitor and review your risk register and watch out for key indicators of change.
Trustees should meet regularly and be provided with up to date information to inform their decision making. Inevitably there will be differing trustee attitudes to both risk and opportunity, so it is vital that you tease out the possible implications of any actions your board collectively decides to take. Think carefully of the implications of different scenarios, and factor these into your future planning.
Board Meetings and AGMs
Board meetings can be online unless your governing document specifically prohibits this. If you’re not covered, minute your decision to meet in this way, and consider amending your governing document for the future. See guidance from OSCR for charities.
Whether you need to hold an Annual General Meeting, or can consider postponing, will depend on your legal status and your constitution. If you do go ahead and decide to have a general meeting online, there are various issues to consider to ensure your AGM is legally compliant. Check your governing document and quorum requirements, and OSCR guidance if you are a charity.
The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 provides a more flexible framework for members’ meetings. This relaxes corporate governance requirements for companies, SCIOs and a range of mutual organisations. See further guidance from English law firm Bates Wells
New regulations laid in the Scottish Parliament have now extended the period of time that SCIOs can use remote methods (such as video conferencing) to hold meetings with their members from the original date of 30 September 2020 until 30 December 2020.
SCIOs may wish to use this three month extension period as an opportunity to amend their constitutions to ‘future proof’ them by allowing for the use of virtual meetings once the relevant period ends.
After completing your risk assessment consider whether your insurance cover needs to be reviewed. Pay particular attention to business premises, employers’ and public liability insurance policies. Check out the Association of British Insurers guidance. Keegan and Pennykidd provide professional and independent insurance advice to the voluntary sector in Scotland.
Data Protection and GDPR
The Information Commissioner’s Office has a Data Protection and coronavirus information hub. They have also produced guidance: Community groups and COVID-19 which gives clarification on the basics of data protection. It emphasises that data protection rules will not stop you from helping those in need and gives guidance on how to take account of the law when handling sensitive personal information and sharing it with others. There’s also information about what you need to know.
Test and protect
The Test and Protect scheme asks certain types of business to record personal information of customers to help with contact tracing. The media have focused on this being mainly applicable for bars and restaurants, but it could impact on voluntary organisations, for example if you run a community café.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has published simple and user friendly guidance, which outlines the five key principles that should be followed:
- Ask for only what’s needed – refer to the government trace and testing rules and only collect what is strictly required.
- Be transparent with customers – let customers know what you are doing and why you are doing it.
- Carefully store the data – ensure the data is stored in a safe and secure manner, with access being granted to staff on a need-to-know basis.
- Don’t use it for other purposes – as tempting as it may be, the data cannot be used to bolster your email mailing lists or for social media marketing.
- Erase it in line with government guidance – only keep the data for as long as the government rules require. When disposing of the data, again, make sure this is done in a safe and secure manner.
Edinburgh based legal experts, Brodies LLP have shared this blog from their data protection specialists which talks about the requirements for recording this personal data and how to ensure you do it in a manner compliant with the Data Protection 2018 regulations.
Edinburgh based legal experts, Brodies LLP have shared this blog from their data protection specialists which talks
about the requirements for recording personal data and how to ensure you do it in a manner compliant with the
Data Protection 2018 regulations. Some of the details for Scotland have yet to be defined by Scottish
Government, but the principles detailed highlight good practice.
by Brodies LLP
SCVO Pro Bono Service partners Burness Paull’s have technical tips for legal compliance when conducting virtual board
by Burness Paull
NCVO have a risk register template which organisations can use to identify, assess and record risks. This can be used
alongside the NCVO guide How to Manage
NCVO’s information on scenario planning can help your board assess uncertainties in your external environment and
make informed choices about the future.
You can access risk management templates on the DIY Committee Guide website.
by DIY Committee Guide
Cranfield Trust provides free management support to voluntary organisations on finance, communication, business
planning, mentoring and personal support for leaders.
by Cranfield Trust
The Institute for Voluntary Action Research have produced a guide Thinking about Merger during Covid 19 for senior staff and trustees of small and medium-sized voluntary organisations, bringing together the experiences of a wide variety of voluntary organisations and advisers that have contemplated or carried out merger to highlight different dimensions of ‘thinking about merger’. It covers: Reasons for thinking about merger, Stages in the merger process, What makes a successful merger? A collaboration spectrum.
by The Institute for Voluntary Action Research
The ICO has a Data Protection and coronavirus information hub which includes advice on collecting customer and visitor details for contact tracing.
by The Information Commissioner's Office
The Charity Digital Code has released a COVID-19 digital checklist for charity trustees and leaders to help
them make the right decisions about digital during the coronavirus crisis and create a shared understanding
about their charity’s digital goals. It covers areas such as remote working, services, fundraising,
governance and resources.
by Charity Digital Code
ACOSVO provides peer support for chief executives, senior leaders and chairs through weekly zoom calls and other
Inspiring Scotland offer free tailored support to Scottish charities. One-to-one remote support sessions and access
to a network of over 400 professional volunteers who can give support on employment law and HR, finance, PR,
organisational development and governance.
by Inspiring Scotland