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Coronavirus: Funds must be released now, insists Northern Ireland charity chief


Appeal: Nora Smith

Appeal: Nora Smith

Appeal: Nora Smith

A charity sector chief has called for the immediate release of funds to charities in Northern Ireland which have seen incomes slashed due to coronavirus.

Nora Smith, chief executive of charity representative body CO3, told a Stormont committee that charities have already lost hundreds of millions of pounds in income.

Despite a £15.5m support fund announced by the Department for Communities, there is still no detail on when it will open, or what charities can apply for it.

Since lockdown, more than three quarters of local charities have said they are in serious financial difficulties. Fundraising has been decimated and most are not eligible to apply for government-backed support schemes.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

"We are looking at the collapse of some of the most loved, taken-for-granted charities. We can't take them for granted any more," Ms Smith told the Stormont Communities Committee yesterday. "We are now into week nine of lockdown and charities are existing on severely depleted funds, with many workers on furlough. This is happening at a time when demand for services is greater than normal.

"We are looking at an eye-watering amount of money that has been lost. The financial impact has been devastating and without support in the long term we're going to see the withdrawal of many key services people have been relying on."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £750m of support for charities in April, with £22m allocated to charities here. Some £6.75m was allocated to hospices and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the rest would form a Covid-19 Charities Fund.

"A £15.5m fund will not solve the crisis in our sector but there are other solutions available that would help protect cash flow," Ms Smith said.

"Making slight changes to the law to allow furloughed charity employees to come back and work in a volunteering capacity would not cost any more money to the public purse, but it would ensure that charity services can keep going and support people who need them."

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