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‘Flexibility and certainty’ – what the charity sector needs from government

16 July 2020 at 8:30 am
Wendy Williams
Fifteen per cent of charities and not for profits said they must retrench staff when JobKeeper ends 

Wendy Williams | 16 July 2020 at 8:30 am


‘Flexibility and certainty’ – what the charity sector needs from government
16 July 2020 at 8:30 am

Fifteen per cent of charities and not for profits said they must retrench staff when JobKeeper ends 

Charities fear they will need to cut staff when JobKeeper ends in September, according to a new poll, which shows organisations want more flexibility and certainty from government to help them deal with COVID-19.

Nearly 60 per cent of respondents to Pro Bono News’ reader poll said their organisation received JobKeeper support. As many as 15 per cent said they would need to retrench staff when JobKeeper comes to an end. 

One respondent said: “JobKeeper has enabled us to retain staff, whose positions otherwise would have unfortunately been made redundant. We would have lost about 25 per cent of our staff.”

Another said: “We, fortunately, entered COVID-19 debt-free and with a substantial asset base, we will exit the JobKeeper period with reduced operations, an uncertain recovery and seeking a bank facility.”

Pro Bono Australia founder and CEO Karen Mahlab AM said the government would be wise to continue to “help the helpers” otherwise the fallout will be seen in hungry children, and families sleeping rough.

“Unfortunately it seems we are nowhere near seeing the end of this pandemic. The fact is that demand for the services that charities provide i.e. food, housing and other supports is only going to grow,” Mahlab said.

“It seems from the poll data that there will be less charities able to provide support, and the ‘need gap’ will grow.”

The sector has previously called for JobKeeper to be extended to avoid an “October cliff”.

Modelling carried out by Social Ventures Australia (SVA) and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) in June predicted more than 200,000 charity workers could lose their jobs if COVID-19 financial supports were not extended.

An earlier survey found that despite 44 per cent of charities experiencing increased demand for services during the coronavirus crisis, just 4 per cent have reported an increase to revenue. 

Roll over requests

The latest poll also brought to light the need for flexibility when it comes to charities rolling over funding contracts.

More than 40 per cent of respondents said their organisation had been unable to fulfill its contractual obligations or spend allocated government funds due to COVID-19 impacts.

While 43 per cent of respondents said they had been able to roll over or re-purpose unspent funds rather than return them to government, 23 per cent said they had not been able to. Several other respondents said they were still waiting to hear.

David Crosbie, CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), said some of the statistics were damning.

“In any other time, if 40 per cent of organisations were not able to meet their obligations we would be saying this is a crisis, and it is a crisis,” he said.

He said there were clearly thousands of charities “in limbo” about what to do with their unspent funds. 

“I think it takes nothing for government to actually engage with charities and provide them with clarity about what their options are,” Crosbie said.

One third of respondents said they were not getting consistent advice from their contract manager and department about how to handle the situation.

One in eight said their contract manager had actually changed during this period.

The Charities Crisis Cabinet has put forward a number of what Crosbie calls “common sense” principles to clarify where funds should be rolled over.

It proposes that charities and not for profits should be given due consideration in being able to retain the unspent funds provided that:

  • specified contracted activities can be completed within an agreed period of up to 12 months;
  • the organisation has a good performance record of fulfilling government contracts and expending government funds; and
  • where variations are required to contracted activities, the changes do not compromise the initial policy intent of those activities.

The Pro Bono News’ poll showed strong support for the principles with the majority of respondents saying they would be “very useful” or “extremely useful”.

There were calls for flexibility in timeframes and being able to move funding across service types to better meet demand.

Concerns were also raised that where there has been extra demand or extra costs associated with providing services, that needs to be acknowledged.

In total, 405 people from small, medium and large organisations responded to the poll which explored how governments are responding to roll over requests and the use of JobKeeper support.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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