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Northern Ireland charity sector could collapse 'within weeks'


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CO3 chief executive Nora Smith

CO3 chief executive Nora Smith

CO3 chief executive Nora Smith

Northern Ireland's charity sector is facing imminent collapse and may only last weeks, it has been claimed.

A survey of charity leaders found three-quarters were approaching a funding cliff-edge due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The survey was carried out by CO3, an umbrella group representing third sector leaders, in partnership with the Institute of Fundraising.

It showed that 76% were reporting "serious financial difficulties" and 38% had an "unstable" cash flow.

Many charities rely on public fundraising activities, which have stopped overnight.

One charity reported that it had seen a 70% increase in referrals but a 90% slump in income.

Despite a £750m package for struggling charities being announced on April 8, only £21m has been allocated to third sector groups in Northern Ireland, representing approximately £3,400 for each of the 6,000 registered local charities.

The survey also revealed charities had been locked out of government support initiatives.

Around 97% are ineligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Only 8% have managed to access government grants and only slightly more than half have been able to furlough workers.

If we are to get through this crisis together, it is important that charities are supported by government to continue delivering much needed support CO3 chief executive Nora Smith

CO3 urged the Stormont Executive and the UK Treasury to create a rescue package to sustain local charities and voluntary organisations, protect jobs, incomes and cash flow and maintain key services.

"The situation for charities and third sector organisations in Northern Ireland is desperate," said CO3 chief executive Nora Smith.

"This survey paints a stark picture of the position many of our members find themselves in.

"It's no surprise that over 75% of charities have reported serious financial difficulties since this crisis began. Organisations have seen their incomes slashed overnight and are now in the position where they need serious, targeted and comprehensive Executive intervention.

"If we are to get through this crisis together, it is important that charities are supported by government to continue delivering much needed support."

We urgently need intervention from the Executive to protect against the worst impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic will have Roisin Foster, Cancer Focus NI

Roisin Foster from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland said the coronavirus pandemic had caused enormous damage to the charity sector.

"We have already been forced to take some very difficult decisions to suspend some of our most needed services, including most of our counselling services for cancer patients," she added.

"We know that this will cause distress, but this crisis has already caused huge damage to our income and hard choices have had to be taken. Some staff have also been furloughed to protect our cash flow," she said.

"We urgently need intervention from the Executive to protect against the worst impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic will have."

Belfast Telegraph