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Brexit – What action can my charity take now?

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With the end of the transition arrangement between the UK and the European Union due to end in days and a trade deal still under negotiation, charities across Scotland will be asking some fundamental questions not least, ‘How will this affect us?’ and ‘What can we do?’.

Part of the difficulty of answering these questions is that an event the size of Brexit will affect organisations in different ways depending on their size, activities and area of operation.  The very rich variety of charities in the sector means that there will be no one simple answer to any of the fundamental questions. 

There are, though, certain key areas which will affect many charities no matter their composition and there are some clear actions you can take.

  1. The residential status of EU citizens

One of the areas with the most certainty is the residential rights of EU citizens. Any EU national currently living in Scotland can apply to the UK Government for settled status. Broadly speaking anyone living in the UK for at least five years should receive settled status and be eligible to live, work and study in the UK indefinitely.

If they have lived in the UK for less than five years, then they will receive pre-settled status which expires after five years from the date that status is given. During that period, once the individual has lived in the UK for five consecutive years, they can then apply for settled status.

Full details on the scheme can be found on the UK Government webpage here and advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau can be found here. The Scottish Government has provided a toolkit for EU citizens wishing to stay in Scotland here.

The deadline for applications is 30 June 2021; however any EU national wishing to achieve settled (or pre-settled if appropriate) status should apply as soon as possible. This includes those among your trustees, your members, your staff, your volunteers, your beneficiaries and your communities.

Anyone who has not applied for settled status after 30 June 2021 will no longer be eligible to stay in the UK. It is vital that all EU nationals are aware of what they must do to prevent this happening.

  1. Data protection

It seems only yesterday that we were considering how General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) would affect us. GDPR has been incorporated into UK law, so organisations in the UK (including charities) that were subject to it before 31 December 2020 will remain so after the end of transition.

If you are GDPR compliant and do not exchange information covered by the regulations with organisations or contacts in the European Economic Area (EEA), then you don’t need to be concerned.

If, however, you do exchange information with organisations or contacts in the EEA then as of the 1 January 2021, until the UK has been assessed by the EU as having an adequate data protection regime (that assessment is ongoing), you will need to find a legally compliant means of sharing that data.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has information on what you need to do here and provides an interactive tool here.

  1. Funding from EU sources

This is possibly one of the biggest areas of concern for charities. Unfortunately it is not yet clear what will replace EU funding. The Chancellor highlighted in his November spending review the creation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to replace the funds available from the EU structural funds such as the European Social Fund, though there are few details as yet. The Scottish Government have also indicated how they would distribute the proposed £1.2b of funding via a Scottish Shared Prosperity Fund.

Similarly, it is still unclear whether the UK will negotiate to be a third country member of Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 or any other competitive funds. Even if membership were successfully negotiated it is unlikely that the level of funding would reach current levels.

As such, the best you can do is identify how much (if any) EU funding you receive and update your Risk Register and subsequent financial planning as appropriate. Current EU funding for any particular award should continue into the new-year until that particular award has been exhausted but you should think about mitigating against the potential loss of that funding once it has expired.  Hopefully alternate funding sources from the UK and/or the Scottish Governments will be available by then but you should make sure you are covering the all the potential scenarios.

  1. Stay informed

I know how much more difficult this is than those two little words suggest.  The changing situation and uncertainty means that it can feel like a real challenge.  It seems difficult and worrying for the thousands of trustees, staff and other volunteers across Scotland who are trying to get their heads around this at the moment.  However, it is essential that charities do keep informed and there are sources of information that will be updated on a regular basis on the matters that will be of most relevance to you.

The UK Government’s general transition page for organisations and citizens can be found here while a page for civil society specifically (including charities) can be found here

The Scottish Government’s mygov.scot has a dedicated Brexit section here.

For advice more specifically aimed at charities (and indeed the wider third sector), the SCVO’s Brexit advice page can be found here and the NCVO’s Brexit page is here. The Civil Society Brexit Project is a partnership between the Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe (SULNE) and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and also has information on a range of topics relevant for charities.

Finally, the Prepare for Brexit website is aimed more at businesses but there may be information there that is of use, particularly if you or one of your trading subsidiaries imports from, or exports to, the EU.