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Village halls and community centres offer great value to their communities whether this be through the spaces they offer or projects they run. They have faced a profoundly difficult time over the last year with many venues closing and facing uncertainties about when they could reopen. This has led to many vulnerable people being without the hub of their community.

Now more then ever, running a village hall or community centre effectively with governance at the core is incredibly important.

Key legal issues to consider when running a village hall or community centre

We have summarised the key legal issues you should consider if you are running a village hall or community centre. We covered these issues in our latest webinar alongside excellent speakers from YMCA and Action Hampshire.

Running a village hall or community centre: practical Governance tips

Governance is not simply a box to tick on a trustee’s agenda; it should be at the heart of everything a charity does. Here are just some of the points considered in our interactive session during the webinar:

Trustees – who are they?

A trustee can be anybody involved in the strategic running of the village hall or community centre. You can also have land or holding trustees when you have land held by a charity which is not incorporated. Land trustees hold the land on behalf of the village hall or community centre. They are the only people who can deal with the property.

You should ensure this is all in order to avoid complex problems when for example, land trustees pass away.

Carefully consider whether you want a trustee who is also in a paid position. Up until recently trustees were only able to be paid for expenses. The rules have now been changed – a trustee can be in a paid position, but you need a specific provision, or you should change your constitution.

In addition, there are strict rules the other trustees must go through to appoint a paid person. They need to look at the terms and conditions, what else is going on in the market, and what influence the person might have. It is always better to have no paid trustees as there can be conflicts of interest.

Trustees – how many?

You should also carefully consider the number of trustees you have as this can seriously affect the smooth running of the village hall or community centre. Too many trustees make decision making difficult.

Another tricky issue is when you have trustees who also use the buildings – there can be conflicts of interest over things like hiring charges as those trustees will be keen to protect their own financial interests.

Trustees should be able to effectively make decisions and effectively communicate to the community; 9 is probably the maximum unless there are very good reasons to increase the number.

Trustees and their liabilities

Trustees are jointly liable for anything going wrong and contracts will be in their names on a personal basis. They are trustees as individuals which means any claims could be against their personal assets.

Insurance is available to protect the trustees but often you will find as this is done on an annual basis; it is not always renewed correctly and they may be risks associated.

For example, we came across a case where a village hall acquired additional insurance for a bouncy castle, parking and music at an event. A child was injured in the crowd at the event and the trustees were unsuccessful in making a claim as they had failed to carry out a risk assessment as required by their policy. Make sur e someone looks at your insurance policies and understands what exactly is required – otherwise you could be in trouble.

Governance and your beneficiaries

Village halls or community centres can be set up with the people in the community or those living in the areas as its beneficiaries, which technically means only they can use the facilities as they are the people for whom the charity was set up.

Make sure you know who is using your facility. The occasional use from someone outside the area of benefit is acceptable – but if this is a regular occurrence you may need to change your objects. This needs the permission of the charity commission.

Governance and raising funds

Remember if you’re making a public appeal for fundraising you need to be careful with wording. You must use the money for the intended purpose. Campaigns to raise funds should be generic so you have the freedom to use the money flexibly based on how much you raise.

You can contact our Charity team for more information on governance and specific advice on your situation.

Running a village hall or community centre: your obligations to volunteer

It’s important to be aware of your key obligations towards your volunteers. Employment status is a well-trodden area of law and can be a tricky issue regarding volunteers. For example, a volunteer could become a worker or even an employee depending on the reality of the relationship.

This can be a tricky issue as you may have people in your village hall or community centre who you call a volunteer when actually they are not, and consequently have more rights than you might have thought.

You may have volunteers that are in actual fact considered by law to be employees. This is the case if:

If an individual is deemed to be an employee, they are entitled to a whole host of rights including discrimination, unfair dismissal and parental rights.

You may have volunteers that are considered workers. This means they have some, but not all, rights given to someone considered an employee. A worker is anyone operating under a contract and they are entitled to benefits such as holiday pay and discrimination protection, but not unfair dismissal or maternity rights;

A true volunteer in the eyes of the law is someone who spends time unpaid engaged in activity which is for the benefit of a third party.

If someone is a volunteer they have no employment rights and no protection from discrimination.

So, how do you work it all out? To determine if someone truly is a volunteer and therefore what your obligations are to them, ask yourself: Is there a contract? A contract will include an offer, acceptance and consideration. An employment contract makes the person entitled to national minimum wage and holiday pay.

You need to ensure you are treating volunteers, workers and employees correctly in the eyes of the law, so being clear on these definitions is key in really understanding what your obligations are. Getting it wrong could lead to legal costs, tribunal awards and reputational damage.

To ensure your volunteers have the right legal status, practically you should:

Volunteer agreements are always a good idea. They should be clear about what the relationship will involve and be easy to understand. You might also consider a volunteer policy, which can delve into even more detail.

This can be a tricky area to navigate so if you need more help, our Employment team can help.

Running a village hall or community centre: GDPR and managing personal data

No organisation is exempt from data protection compliance. When running a village hall or community centre, no matter how big or small, the law says you need to take data protection seriously.
Fully compliant organisations are able to prevent many data protection issues from arising. They have policies that protect them if something does go wrong and this results in less stress, better staff retention and happy customers.

So, how do you get there?

  1. Choose someone in your organisation to lead the data protection and support them. This could be the appointment of a formal Data Protection Officer (DPO). Remember, they will need ongoing training and support and they aren’t expected to work alone in ensuring that your organisation is compliant.
  2. Read and follow the guidance from the ICO. The 7 basic data protection principles are a good starting point. You can contact the ICO if you have specific data protection queries.
  3. Document your data processing to help demonstrate that you are compliant. Documented procedures are easier for staff to follow and can help you react quickly to data protection issues.

What specific documents do you need to ensure compliance?

Here is (probably) the bare minimum you need:

  1. Privacy Policies
  2. Record of Processing Activities
  3. Data Breach Register
  4. Written data processor contracts containing the ‘data processing clauses’
  5. Copies of consent – always record when people have consented to you having and using their data (remember: you don’t always need consent to process personal data, there are other lawful grounds to choose from)
  6. Additional documents for sensitive data or criminal conviction information

For templates and a full explanation of each compliance document, check the ICO website.

Being compliant should be an ongoing effort. For further information or help, get in touch with our Data Protection expert.

These are just some of the many issues you may face in the day to day running of a village hall or community centre. Our expert Charity team are here to help should you need further guidance. You can also sign up to our Charity Forum, where you can share best practice with fellow charity professionals, and come along to various webinars and events.