Which of the largest 100 charities are using the furlough scheme?

01 Jun 2020 In-depth

We surveyed the largest charities to see which of them were using the government’s furlough scheme. Harriet Whitehead summarises the findings.

The largest 100 charities have furloughed more than 33,000 staff using the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, according to a survey carried out in April and May by Charity Finance. The survey looked at the charities that feature in the Charity Finance 100 Index, which ranks charities according to their average income over a three-year period.

Around half of the largest 100 charities responded to questions and reported furloughing a total of 33,177 staff. Given the nature of the pandemic, this number is likely to fluctuate, with charities deciding to implement the scheme or furlough different levels of their workforces throughout the period.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is open to all UK employers starting from 1 March 2020. It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus. Employers can use a portal to claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month.

The scheme has now been extended until the end of October and new flexibility will be introduced in an attempt to get employees back to work and boost the economy. From the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work parttime with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff.

High levels of furloughing

Some UK charities have furloughed significant proportions of their staff, with the National Trust reporting the most. It has furloughed 80% of its workforce, which amounts to around 11,000 people.

Other charities which do not deliver frontline services have done similar. For example, Historic Environment Scotland has furloughed 900 staff, which equates to around 61% of its workforce, and the National Theatre has furloughed 850 staff, which amounts to around 85% of its workforce. The RSPB has put half of its staff on the scheme, furloughing 1,100 people.

Other charities which have furloughed high proportions of staff include household names, such as Oxfam, which has placed roughly two-thirds of its workforce, 1,400 employees, on furlough. Age UK has furloughed more than 1,300 staff, over 70% of its workforce – the vast majority of these, 1,100, are from the retail division following the closure of almost 400 shops. The British Heart Foundation has furloughed 3,600, around 80% of its workforce while Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has furloughed around 2,400 staff, which equates to 60% of its workforce.

Charities that haven't furloughed 

Certainly, it makes sense for charities to furlough employees where they cannot trade due to the closure of public spaces. Most theatres, parks, and shops cannot operate at present but staff should be able to return to work at some point in the future.

However, although the scheme has seen take-up by these sorts of charities, it does not help charities whose services are needed more than ever right now. Some of these, like Citizen’s Advice in our list, have continued government funding to do so, and therefore have not opted to take up the scheme.

Other charities that have declined to use the furlough scheme are working in health, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, while Mercy Corps Europe is continuing its humanitarian work without this support.

Grantmakers such as the Wellcome Trust and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation have also not utilised the scheme.

Other charities reported that they were placing some staff on furlough, but did not provide figures.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, said it had placed staff on furlough, but did not disclose how many. The Girls’ Day School Trust and Nuffield Health said that as the situation is constantly evolving, they were not able to provide specific numbers.

Topping up salaries?

Around 60% of those which reported they were using the furlough scheme have some kind of top-up system in place. This may include topping up salaries to 100%, or paying employees 80% when their pay exceeds £2,500 per month.

The Royal British Legion, where around 15% of staff have been furloughed, is topping up the salary of furloughed staff to 100%. Other charities such as Age UK, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Sightsavers International and the British Red Cross are currently doing the same.

Other charities have different top-up systems in place.

Marie Stopes International (MSI) has furloughed 23 team members, which represents 9% of the total London support office workforce. The charity will not be topping up salaries to 100% pay, but does have a top-up approach in place. Earnings up to and including £37,500 per year are paid at 80%. Any earnings between £37,500 and £48,000 per year are paid at 70% (funded by MSI) and earnings over £48,000 per year are paid at 60% (funded by MSI).

The Royal National Theatre has furloughed 85% of its workforce. It furloughed the majority of staff on 100% pay for April, but implemented a pay cut from 1 May and is not now topping salaries up to 100%.

The National Autistic Society, which has furloughed around 150 staff, is not topping up pay to 100% but has topped up everyone’s pay to 80% even if it is above £2,500.

A spokesperson at the Alzheimer’s Society, which has furloughed 21% of its workforce, said: “The majority of our furloughers are receiving 80% of their pay; we committed to supporting those whose earnings are above the grant cap and would have experienced reductions well in excess of 20% by topping up their furlough pay to a maximum of 70% of their salaries.” They added that the charity is topping up its junior employees’ pay to 100% to ensure they receive the Living Wage Foundation’s real living minimum wage.

Pay cuts

Some senior staff at the largest charities will also be taking pay cuts.

At CRUK the executive board has taken a 20% pay cut effective from 1 April, likely to continue until the end of August. All remaining staff will be taking a 20% reduction in hours and salary from 1 May for up to four months.

Approximately two-thirds of Oxfam staff in the UK were furloughed, and chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah will be cutting his salary by 20% for the coming months. RNLI’s chief executive, Mark Dowie, has taken a 50% pay cut. Some 35% of RNLI’s staff have been placed on furlough.

Scope’s executive leadership team will take a 20% reduction in pay. The charity is consulting with all other non-service delivery staff on proposals to reduce working hours and salary by 20%, but staff delivering vital services will be protected.

At the Alzheimer’s Society, over 60% of its senior leadership group have volunteered to take a personal pay cut, ranging from 5% to 30% of their salaries, and at the Royal National Theatre a 20% pay cut is being applied across the organisation, with some members of senior leadership voluntarily taking a larger pay cut. All of Age UK’s charity directors have taken a pay cut of at least 15%.

A spokesperson for Marie Curie said: “In view of the financial pressures on Marie Curie at this time of national crisis, the executive leadership team have taken a 20% reduction in gross pay, while directors are donating 10% of their net income to the charity.

“Other managers and staff have voluntarily reduced their pay or hours during this time. This is part of a number of measures taken to ensure that we can continue to support the NHS and deliver frontline care to patients and provide emotional and bereavement support to families across the UK.”

Further furloughing measures

Members of the House of Lords have written to the chancellor, calling for furloughed charity workers to be able to volunteer for their own organisations. A letter, written by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tyler of Enfield, asked the Treasury, subject to certain conditions being met, “to allow furloughed employees of registered charities to volunteer for their organisation and continue serving the public”.

Before the announcement of the October extension, Baroness Barran, the Minister for Civil Society, had ruled out the idea. She said at the online House of Lords charity debate: “In order to prevent fraudulent claims we’ve been clear that individuals can’t work or volunteer for their own organisations. But this also protects individuals: if we allowed workers to volunteer for their employers, the employers could effectively ask them to work full time while only paying them 80% of their wages.”

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of Charity Finance Group, said: “The extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until October will provide a lifeline to many charities and their beneficiaries. It’s critical that thought is given to exiting the scheme in ways that do not pull the rug out from under charities who are never more needed.

“Additionally, there are still a number of challenges with the scheme that remain. It was not designed with our sector in mind and thus is ineffective for many. Quick wins, like allowing furloughed workers to volunteer for their own charity, or extending the scheme to charities who cannot furlough but are nonetheless responding to increased demand, must be considered by the government to ensure vital services are not decimated as charities struggle to keep their heads above water.” 

Download the table on how the UK’S largest charities are using the Government's furlough scheme


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