The Chief Executive of CO3, the leadership body for the third sector in Northern Ireland, has given a cautious welcome to the news of a £40 million Hardship Fund from the Department for the Economy.

Nora Smith, pictured above, said:“Whilst we welcome news of a Hardship Fund, the devil will be in the detail in terms of whether or not our members can access this. To date most of them have not been able to access any financial relief despite the fact that our sector employs around 45,000 people and contributes £1.5billion to the local economy.

“The fund may be able to help a small number of charities and social enterprises and we await the detail to find out if this is something they can access in the absence of anything else.

“There are a significant proportion of charities that depend on public fundraising which has fallen off a cliff since lockdown measures were introduced. There are also a range of members who may not be eligible because of their size but are not able to access any of the financial support to date.  It is therefore crucial that the Executive urgently come forward with a targeted funding package for the third sector that will alleviate financial pressures facing charities and social enterprises.”

Many charities rely on public fundraising activities which have stopped overnight with one charity reporting that despite a 70 percent increase in referrals to its service, its income is down by 90 percent.

Despite a £750m package for struggling charities being announced on April 8, only £21m has been allocated to third sector organisations in Northern Ireland, representing around £3,400 for each of Northern Ireland’s over 6,000 registered charities.

Charities have also reported having to stop some key services due to financial pressures.

Roisin Foster from Cancer Focus NI said: “We have already been forced to take some very difficult decisions to suspend some of our most needed services including most of our counselling services for cancer patients. We know that this will cause distress, but this crisis has already caused huge damage to our income and hard choices have had to be taken. Some staff have also been furloughed to protect our cash flow.”

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