The impact of Covid-19 on organisations providing services for people with disabilities

Wednesday May 6th 2020


A Covid-19 Fund for Charities: The losses faced by the sector from the catastrophic loss of fundraised income, amount to several hundred million euro, with some organisations now facing a revenue gap of up to 30%. We need a fund to help replace some of this income in order to be able to maintain services and secure our future.

Restore €20m funding cut and guarantee HSE funding to the sector: Pobal & Túsla have guaranteed funding to the not-for-profit bodies they fund. The HSE has not. It urgently needs to do so. It also needs to reverse the €20m funding cut to disability services contained in the 2020 HSE service plan and which is still being implemented.

Commit in the Programme for Government to finally deal with the chronic underfunding of the sector. Underfunding of Section 39 services has become endemic since the last crisis of 2008 onwards. Our services are vital and are being delivered to a very high standard by not-for-profit organisations which deliver excellent value to the state. It is time the chronic underfunding problem was resolved.


The outbreak of COVID-19 has presented a very significant challenge to organisations providing services for people with disabilities. We are entrusted with the care of many for thousands of vulnerable adults and children with physical, sensory, intellectual and mental health disabilities. Providing that care, while simultaneously protecting the people who use our services from the virus, has been our number one priority since the outbreak began in February.

Our organisations have risen to that challenge. Working in close partnership with the HSE and other agencies, we have ensured that Public Health guidance and best practice has been implemented in all our services. This, and the commitment of our trained and dedicated staff, has protected many thousands of vulnerable citizens from the dangers posed by the pandemic.

We, as a not-for-profit group of disability service providers, are operating and continue to operate to the highest possible standards in delivering care in the midst of this pandemic. We believe that we are demonstrating that we can be relied on to partner with the HSE and Public Health agencies to protect vulnerable citizens.

Our priority as organisations has been the protection of those using our services from the threat posed by the pandemic.

But the virus is also threatening our future, and therefore the future of the quality services which we provide. It is this threat that we need to bring to your attention and why we ask for your support to secure our future.


In Ireland, two- thirds of disability services are delivered by not-for-profits. In total, 35% of the entire disability budget is spent by Section 39 providers – so the State is heavily reliant on our sector to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

In November 2019, a number of large Section 39-funded disability service providers formed The Disability Action Coalition[1], to bring urgent issues to the attention of our elected representatives. Most of us are members of the Not For Profit Group, which is sponsoring the Coalition.

The key issue for us is funding and our relationship with the HSE, our funder, and how we are viewed by the state as a service provider funded under Section 39 of the Health Act. Since the last major crisis which faced the state, from 2008 onwards, we have been hit with funding cuts which, not having been restored, are undermining us and our bottom line.

As a result, many of us were already in crisis when the Covid-19 emergency hit us. After years of underfunding, we are carrying deficits, some are depending on loans, and all of us have been dealing with an additional cut of €20m in the 2020 HSE budget for disability services.

The challenges which we face were acknowledged in the report examining the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state, by Dr. Catherine Day, published in February 2019. You can see the main recommendations of this report in Appendix 1.

Some of you will be familiar with our situation, because we have briefed members of the outgoing Oireachtas and during the recent General Election Campaign, we hosted constituency sessions in centres all over the country, to bring our issues to your attention. Most of you reflected our asks in your Election manifestos.

[1] Irish Wheelchair Association, Enable Ireland, Rehab Group, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, Cheshire Ireland, Chime, MS Ireland, National Council for the Blind in Ireland.


The biggest impact of the crisis has been on our fundraised income.

Fundraising and social enterprise revenues have collapsed. For the most part, we have kept services going but this is not sustainable.

The emergency has again exposed the completely inadequate funding the sector already relies on, and in particular the flawed way in which the HSE agrees disability budgets and funds services. Indeed, even as our country scrambles to cope with this emergency, the HSE is still proceeding with the €20m cut-back in funding for disability that is contained in its service plan and which was announced in January.


National Council for the Blind Ireland: It costs the NCBI about €9m to run services for approximately 8,000 people each year. They receive funding from the HSE of about €6m. This shortfall of over 30% of its expenditure is bridged each year by fundraising and social enterprise. Since the restrictions imposed by the virus, this activity has almost completely stopped. This will have serious implications for services for people with disabilities if more State support is not forthcoming

The Irish Wheelchair Association has had to close 15 charity shops and this is having a huge impact on revenue. The organisation is looking at fundraising losses of about one million euro this year.

Enable Ireland has had to postpone fundraising events and close 21 charity shops. This means the organisation is facing potential losses of €1.5million to their income in 2020. This is on top of an existing shortfall in funding of €3.5m.

Rehab is looking at a fundraising loss of about €400,000

Chime relies on social enterprise/fundraising for 33% of its revenue. This amounts to c€2.0m per annum. This revenue is down over 80%.

MS-Ireland fundraising is likely to be down between 25-40% – depending on how long the restrictions last

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland have had to postpone vital fundraising events which were scheduled between Quarters 2 and 3. These events potentially may not occur this year. Community fundraising and events fundraising have completely stopped because of social restrictions. The organisation is looking at a 30% drop in fundraising for 2020 and if restrictions are extended this could be much higher.

Appendix 1 –

The Independent Review Group Report (Dr. Catherine Day Report)

The Government commissioned an independent review of the sector and a report was published in February, 2019 called the Report of the Independent Review Group established to examine the role of voluntary organisations in publicly funded health and personal social services, also known as the IRG report, chaired by Dr. Catherine Day.

It made a number of recommendations about our sector, and we want them implemented. This is the only way that the crisis being faced by our services, will be resolved, and the future secured.

Some of the key recommendations are:

  1. Manage Deficits

The Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform should undertake a review of the financial position of voluntary organisations that would include an analysis of surpluses/deficits over the last five years and the main drivers and put forward proposals for resolving any deficits identified.

  • Multi-annual budgets

There should be a move to multi-annual budgets for 3-5 years in duration to facilitate strategic service planning and reform of services.

  • Pay Full Cost of delivery of Services

Full cost prices for delivery of these services should be agreed centrally.

  • Set up a Forum and include voluntary sector

A Forum should be established to facilitate regular dialogue between the relevant State representatives and the voluntary sector to ensure their full involvement in future policy and strategic developments. (Only initial moves made on this)

  • Mechanism for resolving disputes

An independent process should be put in place to resolve disputes (excluding the negotiation of budget allocations) between the HSE and voluntary organisations.