Assessing Financial Vulnerability and Risk in the UK’s Charities During and Beyond the Covid Crisis, 2020-2022


We advise that users familiarise themselves with the reporting requirements of the regulators on whose data we have drawn for this work. Some variables are easily understood (headline income and expenditure figures, or dates of registration and dissolution); others less so (e.g. familiarity with definitions of the components of income which charities are required to report would be desirable for work on the exposure of charities to specific income sources). We carried out work on various aspects of the financial vulnerability of charities and charitable companies, as follows: 1. patterns of registration and dissolution, as measured by the dates on which these events are recorded by the regulators. 2. the extent to which organisations held reserves prior to the onset of Covid-19. We used measures of "unrestricted reserves" which are usually provided only for larger organisations and expressed these as a proportion of the organisation's annual expenditures; 3. financial vulnerability, expressed in various ways - substantial (over 25%) fluctuations in incomes, or fluctuations in the excess of expenditure over income; 4. exposure of organisations to particular income streams. We define these in "VariableDescriptions_covid19_project.doc", attached to this deposit. Note that for time series analyses, the Charity Commission website data on the incomes and expenditures of charities only contains data for relatively recent time periods; a longer time series providing charity financials from the late 1990s to 2012 is available in the Third Sector Research Centre data collection at and we recommend this is linked to the current data from the Charity Commission. Financial histories are not available for as long a time period for Scottish charities since the regulator was not established until 2006. Other data of relevance to work on this project would be a publicly-available classification of charities at Charitable organisations largely fall into a small number of sections of the Standard Industrial Classification and as a result scholars have developed more granular schemas. the data at the above website are publicly-available and can be linked via charity ID numbers. Project papers describing the work in more detail are available at are significant public concerns about the impact of the economic consequences of COVID-19 for UK voluntary organisations. The lockdown has caused the cessation of income generation activities involving face-to-face contacts; it will be followed by longer-term impacts depending on the scale and duration of the post-crisis recession. The impact will be highly differentiated, between organisations of different missions and size, and between communities. Central and national government, funders, voluntary organisation infrastructure bodies, and organisations themselves require analysis of these impacts if they are to make informed decisions. The immediate needs are for understandings of: 1. exactly what sorts of funding streams are at risk, and how the reduction or cessation of that funding has differentiated impacts 2. the extent to which the economic impacts of COVID-19 will differ in magnitude and character from previous shocks to voluntary sector income (there is a baseline degree of fluctuation in organisations incomes and expenditures, but we anticipate the crisis will affect far more organisations); 3. ongoing differential impacts depending on the progress of moving out from lockdown. Our work will contribute to an improved evidence base, providing actionable information on the exposure to risk of charities, drawing on a growing volume of administrative and transactional data. This will provide more granular, policy-relevant data on the impacts of economic change on charitable organisations. In turn this will provide a firmer evidential basis for interventions such as targeted financial support for strategically-significant charities.

Data were downloaded regularly from the following sources. (1) The Charity Commission: the majority of charities which operate within England and Wales are legally obliged to register with the Charity Commission, whose data are now available publicly. The Charity Commission provided a comprehensive data extract which is updated regularly. Dissolutions and registrations of organisations are updated daily. Financial information is updated as and when returns are submitted by charities; there is a timelag because charities have a grace period within which to report their financial results and because there are then internal checks, which can take longer. This means that more detailed returns on which we have relied for analyses tend to take longer to appear in the publicly-downloadable files. (2) The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator: all organisations wishing to operate as charities in Scotland must be registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. There are differences in the characteristics of registered charities between Scotland and England / Wales, because the Scottish regulator has no income threshold above which reporting is mandatory (in England and Wales only organisations with incomes or expenditures greater than £5000 are required to do so) and because in England and Wales there are various categories of charity which do not report to the Charity Commission (because they have a different principal regulator – e.g. universities). (3) Companies House: the majority of the organisations registered with, and/or regulated by, Companies House are for-profit organisations but some are of interest to third sector researchers, such as Community Interest Companies and Companies Limited by Guarantee though the precise allocation of these to the third sector is a matter of judgement; Companies House offer, through their website, a complete list of active registered companies as a free download, updated monthly. In our work we have focussed on Companies Limited by Guarantee.

Metadata Access
Creator Mohan, J, University of Birmingham; Rutherford, A, University of Stirling; Clifford, D, University of Southampton
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2022
Funding Reference ESRC
Rights John Mohan, University of Birmingham; The Data Collection is available from an external repository. Access is available via Related Resources.
OpenAccess true
Language English
Resource Type Numeric; Text; Geospatial
Discipline Economics; Social and Behavioural Sciences
Spatial Coverage England, Wales, Scotland; United Kingdom