Notes for Committees Day – 25.10.13 – Thames Valley Network

  One thing I find as I travel round is that U3As do sometimes lose sight of what U3A is all about.   When our three founders set the organisation up it was for people who had generally finished  parental duties and responsibilities (I am fully aware that this is not always the case) and were no longer in full-time employment.  This allowed them time to themselves and as peoples’ health and wellbeing improved, there was a feeling that they wanted to do something worthwhile in their retirement. Instead of following the more academic model, attached to universities as in France, our founders produced the model of co-operative learning by self-help.  We were to use our own resources of knowledge and experience  and were to provide what our members wanted with those resources.  We would be able to provide a reasonably cheap service, affordable by all.  No paid tutors.  It the U3A had not got an experienced Tai Chi instructor in their midst, then it wasn’t a viable option.  The Sports Centre up the road could probably provide that at a price.  I  quote one U3A that has become a private club as it has completely ignored our aims and principles.  It has registered an orchestra under a separate charity number still using the U3A logo and advertises for members.  Its website was sponsored by a firm of solicitors, whose name was on the home page.  A great advertisement!  It also allows its groups to have their own bank accounts and they are only accounted for once a year to the main committee, who are totally responsible for their members’ money but don’t know what it happening to it.  We are a unique organisation, so let’s stay that way.  So let’s get down to the nitty gritty!

Charity Registration

It is mandatory to register as a charity in England and Wales, once your income exceeds £5,000.  You will be issued with your own charity number but must not ever use the Trust’s charity number.  In England and Wales, all U3As are charitable organisations whether registered or not and are subject to Charity Law.

Trustee responsibilities

Trustees of a U3A (all committee members are  trustees) are responsible for the proper handling of all its funds, including any money paid at group meetings and social events.  In the event that any financial irregularity should come to light, the trustees will be held liable as this responsibility cannot be delegated to non-trustees.  It is not possible for an individual trustee to opt out of collective responsibility.

Trustee Indemnity Insurance

All U3A committees are covered by Trustee Indemnity Insurance provided by the Third Age Trust, which protects the trustees both individually and as a board against a genuine mistake/error of judgement provided that they have acted responsibly and followed their constitution (every Trustee should have a copy of their constitution).  If proper procedures have been followed and/or the constitution adhered to or if trustees have become aware of bad practice and not put it right they may not be covered under this policy.  In all circumstances a policy excess of £250 would apply.

Bank Accounts

Cheques should be signed by two trustees from a pool of at least 4/5 and possibly more where people take several holidays each year.  Generally the signatories are Officers and should apply to all accounts including the social one.

Social accounts

The Charity Commission has no interest in social events as these are considered to be outside your charitable objects/purposes.  The following are classed as social events:

Theatre visits


Christmas lunches/teas/wine and cheese parties.  Any activity which is interest group specific should not be included in this account.  One of the main reasons for separating social events from the normal educational activities of the U3a is that you are not allowed to fund social events from your main income i.e.members’ subscriptions, which have to be used solely in pursuance of your charitable objects.  If the Social Account needs financial support on a temporary basis for example to pay for tickets in advance, the main committee can provide a loan, which ideally would be repaid by the end of the financial year  The committee should not support sustained losses.  Social events should break even.  At the end of the financial year, a decision should be made on whether the balance in the social account should remain or whether a proportion should be transferred to the main account to support your primary objectives.

Membership Fees

These are funded in two ways

a)       An annual subscription which covers all membership activities

b)      A lower annual subscription which covers general meetings and a newsletter and members then share any interest group charges/or members attending any interest group pay a set amount regardless of the costs of the group.

It is worth noting that when considering fee structure, you should consider funding:

 One or more of your members to attend the National Conference (shorter Conference /AGM in 2014 – Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester 9/10 September 2014!)

 Cost of postage to cover direct mailing of Third Age Matters - £2.10 pence per annum

£3.50 Capitation Fee.

It is recommended that all transactions are handled through the main bank account

It is acceptable for the U3A committee to subsidise any interest group by covering losses or costs, as these are core activities of U3A.

Under no circumstances should groups open their own bank accounts.

Groups should report their income and expenditure quarterly or half yearly.  This is to protect group leaders and trustees.

Paying by Credit/Debit card

As it has become more difficult to pay for activities such as theatre visits, members have resorted to using personal credit cards.  This is very foolish because of lack of trustee control and the potential risk if a supplier goes into administration, as it is possible that only the proportion of the payment pertaining to the individual would be covered rather than the full debt, because of the use of a personal credit card for a group booking.  My U3A has always managed with cheques, even paying London theatres.  The problem is that you are given a window of perhaps a month in which you need to collect payment but once the  members understand the system, they pay in advance.  If travelling by bus, that is charged later, which helps to spread the cost a little.

I understand that debit cards are now possible on some accounts but there must be strict controls if these are used.  Even if you get a debit card it does not provide any protection if a supplier goes out of business  But a credit card does and some U3As have managed to get one.

Payments to other charities

A one-off donation to other charities at the request of a speaker does not contravene any rules on payments to other charities.  It is also acceptable to arrange a small fund-raising event for a local charity provided it is clearly indicated that all monies raised will go to that charity.  Ideally hand it over in cash.  It must not go through the main bank account.

Paid speakers/tutors

It is understandable that U3As will often have to pay modest fees to speakers for their general meetings but it is not normal practice or within the ethos of U3a to employ tutors regularly on a fee paying basis.  The public Liability cover provided by the Trust does not cover paid tutors.

Trustee expenses

 Expenses are refunds of cost which have been incurred in order to carry out trustee duties.  Expenses should be authorised by an officer.  The same applies to group leaders’ expenses

Charity Accounts

Unless your income exceeds £25,000 you will not be required to submit accounts.  There is no requirement to have your accounts audited unless your income or expenditure exceeds £500,000.  Accounts under £250,000 should have an independent examination by a person with the requisite knowledge and practical experience.  Financial records should be kept for 6 years.

Assets Register

You should have one especially when various pieces of equipment are stored in different places.  It should also be included in your balance sheet when reporting at your AGM.


Acceptable level considered to be 6 months’ running costs.

Surplus funds

Surplus funds should be used to further the objectives of your U3A, not allowed to increase year by year.  Money could be used to purchase capital items, PA system, laptop, projector.  Funds could also be used to freeze the subscription

Gift Aid

Ask the National Office for the Gift Aid Advice Sheet and if further information is needed, ring Lin Jonas.

Free Trips when organising travel

Any freebies should be declared to the U3A committee so that a decision can be made as to whether it can be offered to the leader/organiser as a thank you or shared between all travellers.  A Trustee should not receive any personal benefit.  It is therefore incumbent upon Trustees to see that any travel operation is run in a properly regulated manner.  Any failure to do so could be interpreted as fraud.

National Office – February 2013

P.S.  Joining more than one U3A

Any policy on this subject has to be decided by individual U3As, often in consultation with neighbouring U3As.  It seems to me to be sensible to have an exchange of interest groups if they are not full.  The member coming from another U3A would just pay any expenses of the group.  If the member wishes to attend members’ meetings and enjoy all the benefits of that U3A, it seems sensible that they should pay a subscription, less capitation fee.  THIS POLICY HAS TO BE DECIDED BY INDIVIDUAL U3AS.  THERE IS NO NATIONAL  POLICY.  U3As should have a policy of what happens when the group is full and their own members cannot join!

Policy Book – do all your committees have a policy book available at committee meetings where any important decisions are noted, queries to national Office, to me.  Date and answer and who said it.  This saves leafing through lots of minutes.

Outings and Holidays

As so many U3As allow outsiders to go on these, a list of who is travelling should always be left at home in case of accident or emergency.  Ideally next of kin details for the outsiders.

  Pam Jones