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Paul Lewis’ guide to Christmas charity

Paul Lewis / 21 November 2016 ( 01 December 2021 )

How to make your money go further at the peak time of year for charity…

Santa with a charity collection tin at Christmas

How to give like a wise man in eight steps

It’s the peak time of year to give to charity. A little thought can make your money go further – and avoid problems later. 

And it can be a useful way to give a present to a relative who has everything already! 

Here’s my guide to Christmas gifting…

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1 Get a boost

However much or little you can afford to give to charity, you can get it boosted by 25% through Gift Aid. If you pay income tax, then a gift-aided donation means the charity can reclaim the tax you paid on the gift. 

So if you give £100, the charity can get £25 back from the Treasury. Why £25 when the basic rate of tax is 20%? Well, the £25 is the tax you have already paid. You have earned £125 and 20% tax off that leaves you £100, which you give to charity. Gift Aid gets back the £25.

If you pay income tax, always say yes to Gift Aid. If you pay higher-rate tax, you can reclaim the extra through a self-assessment form.

2 Members with benefits

Some charities offer membership with benefits: the National Trust gives free entry to its properties; art galleries give free entry to special exhibitions. 

These make great gifts: annual membership of the National Trust or RSPB, for example.. 

And remember to Gift Aid it.

Family days out with the National Trust

3 Anonymous donations

Charities rely on donations. One of the most effective ways of fundraising is to write to people who have already given. Anyone who has done so will be on what is called a ‘warm list’ and contacting them usually gets a good response. 

If you don’t want to be on the list, when you donate make sure you tick or untick the box to let the charity know you don’t want to be contacted in future. If you still get a letter, write ‘do not contact me’ across it and send it back.

You can avoid any chance of being hounded by opening a CAF Charity Account with the Charities Aid Foundation. You pay money into it like a bank account and the Gift Aid is added. Then you can donate anonymously from your account using a voucher (like a cheque), standing order or direct payment via CAF’s online service. The CAF takes an admin fee of 4% of what you pay in. 

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4 No tins

Never give money to anyone shaking a tin on the high street. It might seem mean, but sadly there are Christmas scammers about who pose as charity collectors. 

Even if they are genuine it is usually impossible for the charity to collect the Gift Aid on the money you give. So if you see someone collecting for a charity you like the sound of, find its website and make a direct donation – with Gift Aid!

5 Gifts for others

As Christmas approaches, many relatives and friends say ‘No presents, please’ and mean it. 

But we all like to give something. So how about a gift for someone who really needs it? A donation to Sightsavers can save someone’s sight, or to a homelessness charity can find a bed for a vulnerable young person. The long-established Charities Advisory Trust has a whole range of gifts for people who really need things at Good Gifts

6 Sponsorship

Raising money for a charity through sponsorship using an appeal website is easy. But some sites pass much less on to the charity, so check the details before signing up.

Popular websites include JustGiving, Facebook Fundraising and GoFundMe.

7 Willing it

Half of us intend to leave money to charities in our wills. Any gift to a registered charity is free of inheritance tax. If you leave more than 10% of your estate to a charity then the rate of inheritance tax is reduced from 40% to 36%. That can be worthwhile. But you should not leave money to charity just to save tax. And don’t leave a charity either a percentage of your estate or what is called a ‘residuary amount’. Leave a fixed cash sum, which is less likely to be contested.

8 Priceless

One of the most precious things you can give to a charity doesn’t cost anything – your time. Charities always need volunteers.

How to volunteer: befriending

Money expert Paul Lewis To enjoy Paul Lewis' expert tips on personal finance, consumer
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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.