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Brexit and the voluntary sector: Key points to consider

Although the UK left the EU on 31 January with Boris Johnson’s deal, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the future relationship between the UK and EU. There is a lot left to be decided and the threat of a no-deal exit at the end of 2020 is still present, so preparing for change is crucial. Putting plans in place that are flexible enough for a number of scenarios needs to be at the top of any list of trustee priorities.

This summary details the main points for charities to consider as the UK goes through the transition period that is set to end on 31 December 2020. More detailed guidance can be found here. If an extension has not been agreed by 1 July, a no-deal scenario remains a possible outcome.


3.7 million EU nationals live in the UK. The EU settlement scheme allows EU citizens to apply for ‘settled status’ in the UK, granting them the same rights as they enjoyed before the referendum. No Brexit scenario should affect the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK.

Apply for the settlement scheme before 30 June 2021. You can find more information on GOV.UK.

1.7 million UK nationals live in the EU. During the transition period, their rights remain unaffected. The UK government is seeking assurances that EU nations will provide equivalent rights for UK citizens already living abroad. Those living in the EU will continue to receive child and disability benefits and state pension contributions.

UK citizens living in the EU should contact national governments for further information.


Voluntary organisations must remain financially robust in order to cope with the needs of beneficiaries and support our communities. A decline in the pound, increased inflation, rising prices and supply chain disruption have all been predicted by economists in the longer term. All could have direct and indirect impact on charities’ work. Household costs, imports and medication supplies remain unaffected through the transition period, but remain under threat if a no-deal outcome occurs. See our guide for further information.

  • Review the contracts and relationships that are integral to your work.
  • Draw up a budget plan for the coming three years based on best- and worst-case scenarios.
  • Consider whether disruption to supply chains might affect your access to goods such as food or medicines – particularly relevant for charities working in health and social care.
  • Identify costs for short-term continuity in your operations and how they would be funded.


Leaving the EU will mean leaving all of its institutions and funding streams, currently estimated to be at least £258m per year for charities. This is particularly likely given the Chancellor’s recent hints of a future relationship based on ’low alignment’. The government will underwrite the cost of all EU-funded projects from the 2014-2020 cycle, and will continue to approve ESF projects for their entire project life.

We expect to see a consultation on the proposed UK shared prosperity fund (UKSPF) in 2020. NCVO will be calling for a fund designed around places and needs, and has expressed concern around the Conservative manifesto’s pledge of just £500m for the entirety of the next funding cycle.

  • Establish whether you receive or have benefitted from EU funding.
  • Continue to apply for EU-funded projects throughout 2020.
  • Look out for NCVO guidance on the UKSPF consultation.
  • Establish whether a loss in EU funding may create gaps in your income stream.

Employing EU Nationals

The EU settlement scheme will grant EU nationals resident in the UK indefinite leave to remain with the same rights they currently enjoy. With a deal in place, the deadline to apply is 30 June 2021, with rights extending to family members. However, according to recent research from the IPPR, over 80% of EU nationals currently working in charities would be ineligible to work in the UK if they were to arrive after Brexit day.

In 2019, the migration advisory committee proposed a reduction to the cap on low-skilled migrants in the UK. The proposal put forward a new ‘skills-selective approach’ which raises the cap on high-skilled migration offset by temporary one-year visas for low-earning employees. This may pose problems for charities, and it is unclear what will happen to EU researchers whose work benefits UK charities. More details on the Conservatives’ most recent ‘points-based’ immigration plans can be found on the Free Movement website and in our guidance.

  • Familiarise yourself with the EU settlement scheme and look out for immigration announcements.
  • Consider gaps you may need to fill if there is a reduction in EU workers coming to the UK.
  • Undertake a staff audit to identify EU nationals you work with who may be affected.
  • Engage with the relevant employees on Home Office settled status guidance.


There is currently no guarantee that membership of the European Voluntary Service will remain open to British citizens and organisations, with particular fears around programmes such as the Erasmus+ scheme.

Changes to the current visa regime notwithstanding, EU citizens looking to volunteer in the UK will have to apply for Tier 5 (charity) visas through a registered volunteering provider. For those volunteering in the EU, much depends on the future relationship the government negotiates with the EU and what access the UK is granted to various institutions.

Further information

For further information on the above and all other issues relating to Brexit and charities, please see our full guidance documents:

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