Information for registered charities about COVID-19

Updated 1 April 2020

Here you will find answers to some of the questions you may have in regards to your obligations as a registered charity during this time and what support is available. For a list of further information or resources for registered charities please see our resources page.

All charities should read the guidelines and follow updates from the Government’s COVID website(external link). These include health advice for the public, guidance for different sectors and providers, and resources. There is a specific page on the government's site for community groups, faith based groups, clubs and societies(external link) that offers further support.

We will keep this guidance updated over the coming weeks. If you have any questions, contact us at info@charities.govt.nz.

Does the Government's economic support package extend to registered charities?

Yes. More information on the qualification criteria, and how to apply is on the Work and Income New Zealand website(external link). The government has also announced a targeted support package for social sector and community groups, especially those supporting at risk communities and those aimed at keeping families and whānau safe. Find out more here.(external link)

What if I have to cancel or postpone my Annual General Meeting (AGM) or other key events/meetings?

COVID-19 is likely to have an impact on a number of events over the coming months. This may include the holding of your AGM which might make it difficult for you to finalise your annual return and performance report to meet your filing requirements under the Charities Act. These documents are due to us six months after your charity’s financial year end.

If your charity is due to hold its AGM, check your rules document. This should set out procedures for holding your meeting, including timing of the meeting (for example, within three months of the end of your charity’s financial year), requirements to give notice, the number of people that need to attend (known as the quorum), and how voting can occur.  You can find a copy of your charity’s rules document by searching for your charity on the online Charities Register(external link), and clicking on the “Charity Documents” tab.

Your charity’s rules may be flexible enough to allow you to postpone your AGM, or hold your AGM remotely, through platforms such as Skype or Zoom. You may be also able to present your performance report electronically for approval.

If your charity’s rules do not allow for this flexibility, your charity must not hold an AGM during the Level 4 lockdown period, and charities may have made a decision not to hold an AGM before this time for safety reasons.

While charities are generally required to follow their rules, we won’t take compliance action against charities that are taking practical steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must prioritise taking steps to minimise social contact, even if this breaches your rules on how you should carry out your AGM or meetings.

The Companies Office has also given a statement regarding organisations who are unable to hold their AGM or file their financial statements on time. You can read this advice here.(external link)

If you have other key activities or events coming up, that involve bringing people together, consider if they can be postponed or offered in different ways (such as webinars). The Ministry of Health has guidance around events and large gatherings here.(external link)

What if I need an extension to file my Annual Return, or need to be urgently re-registered?

Registered charities have six months after the end of their financial year to submit annual returns and financial statements/performance reports. We won’t be sending our regular reminder emails about annual returns being due, as we appreciate this may cause extra stress for some people. If you are unsure when your charity’s annual return is due, you can find this out by searching for your charity on the online charities register(external link), and selecting the “Annual Returns” tab.

If your charity’s annual return is due shortly, but COVID-19 means you won’t be able to file your documents on time, you can ask for an extension. To do this, please email info@charities.govt.nz and let us know how much extra time you need. We won’t be taking action on any late returns during the lockdown period, but we encourage you to get in touch with us if you can.

Please only request an extension if your annual return due date is within 2 months’ time. That means for charities with balance dates on 31 March 2020 (with due dates 30 September 2020), please only request an extension from August 2020. Extensions will still be available at that time, recognising the challenges faced by charities by COVID-19.

If you find you have been removed as a charity, and need to re-register urgently, you can do so by logging into your charity’s online account(external link), and sending us an email to info@charities.govt.nz. If you need access to your account, email us and explain your position at the charity.

What can I do to support staff and volunteers during this time?

Charities play an important role in educating and reassuring employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders.

  • Reassure your team that you care about their health and safety. 
  • Communicate any changes to how you do your work or deliver programmes to your beneficiaries and stakeholders.
  • Promote good hygiene (washing hands frequently, coughing into elbows, cleaning frequently-touched surfaces, and avoiding physical contact).
  • Remind any employees of your organisation’s policies related to illness and sick leave and consider being flexible with sick leave for those who are ill or are caring for sick family members, or who have to stay at home but cannot work. Employment New Zealand has good guidance(external link), and the Government is offering support to allow for sick leave options to be provided.
  • Direct staff and volunteers to the Government's COVID website(external link) for updates.

What if my auditor/reviewer can’t do an on-site visit?

All charities with operating expenditure of over $500,000 (review) or $1,000,000 (audit) need to get their performance report/financial statement audited or reviewed. Charities also need to get their performance report/financial statement audited or reviewed if their rules say they have to (although they can change your rules if this is not needed).

With social distancing in place, auditors/accountants will not be able to complete onsite visits. It is advisable to scan relevant documents in electronic form to allow audits/reviews to be completed remotely if required. If this causes delays, please contact us by emailing info@charities.govt.nz to request an extension.

What can charities do to help?

In a time of need, charities are essential to meeting need in communities, but it’s important that charities follow their rules document and are acting within their charitable purpose.

There may be charities that could be better placed to provide support, and your group may be able to offer help to those groups. Searching the Charities Register(external link) is a great way to identify charities that operate in your area. Check what help is needed on their website or Facebook pages.

What else should my committee or board think about?

Your board should be thinking about how to govern and manage any risks your charity may encounter. If you have management and employees, you should work closely with them in identifying upcoming risks to your charity. Being flexible is key here.

  • Start the conversation about finances and investments (if they are relevant to your charity) and think about how cancelled services or programmes may impact your budget.
  • Take the opportunity to review your rules, health and safety policies, and risk policies. Consider making changes to allow for flexibility.
  • Make sure you have a plan for the safety of your staff, volunteers and stakeholders.

Good leadership is vital right now and boards need to discuss how they will do business and make decisions.  Please remember to review how you are going to communicate with your stakeholders, clients and members.

Be mindful that different members of your team may perceive the threat differently or have special concerns based on their life circumstances. For example, persons with elderly family members may be especially concerned.

How are scammers using COVID-19?

Scammers are using COVID-19 to steal information and gain access to individuals’ devices. These scams take the form of emails and text messages pretending to be from known organisations. An example of a current scam email claims to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and includes a file for ‘Immunity tips’ against COVID-19. Once the file is opened it releases malware, sending personal information to the scammer.

Most emails from legitimate organisations will not include attachments. If you receive an unexpected email from a business or organisation with attachments, do not open them.

Do not click hyperlinks in suspicious emails or text messages. In many cases they look legitimate, however the hyperlinks usually direct you to a scam website. Before clicking links in an email, hover your mouse over the hyperlinked text and if it is directing you to a web address that looks incorrect then it is likely to be a scam.

If you get a suspicious text message, delete the contact from your phone and contact the company directly to confirm if it was a scam.

Where to find more information about spam and online scams :

How can I stay in touch with my community about COVID-19 within the rules around spam?

We appreciate that you want to get in touch with your communities about COVID-19. Here’s how to do it without breaching the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007.

Before sending an email or text message, consider the following:

  • There are already many communications being issued regarding COVID-19 so consider whether it is necessary to send a message in the first instance.
  • Consider whether your message could be added to the front page of your website instead.
  • If you do need to send a message, please clearly identify yourself within your message, particularly if it’s a text message.
  • Provide clear and accurate contact information within your message in case the recipient needs to get in touch with you.
  • Do not send messages to people who are no longer members or have previously unsubscribed from your messages.

You’ll find more information about how to avoid spamming your communities here(external link). This links to information for businesses and the same rules apply to charities and community groups.

If you have other questions, relevant to charities in Aotearoa New Zealand, email info@charities.govt.nz.  

Kia noho haumaru (Be safe).