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Club Law and Management

by Philip Smith, Secretary of the A.C.C.

Questions and Answers

Q. We are in the process of bringing the Club’s Rules in line with the Equalities Act and we are not sure if existing Lady Associate Members who are becoming Full Members should be made to pay the joining fee that we charge to new Members. Previously, Lady Associate Members were not charged this fee. The subject of subscription rates has also been raised.

A.  By removing the category of Associate Lady Membership, which is a requirement of the Equalities Act, the Club will automatically be electing them to Full Membership of the Club. In my opinion it would be inappropriate to charge Lady Associate Members a joining fee and would be contrary to a provision within the Act that requires efforts to be made to encourage equality. I also think it would be unfair to those Lady Members who have supported the Club for many years, some of whom may not be inclined to pay a joining fee. As a result, the Club could lose loyal Members and revenue from patronage that would far outweigh a joining fee. The legislation makes it entirely acceptable for a Club to introduce new alternative rates of subscription such as joint subscription for couples, widows of past members, or members who are retired. These subscription rates may even encourage new members to join the Club. The new legislation is concerned with voting rights not rates of subscription.


Q. Could you advise on the situation regarding foods laid out on the bar in bowls where members can help themselves. I personally feel that this not in the interests of hygiene when certain people do not wash their hands after visiting the toilet. Is there any legislation on this issue?

A. The Food Safety Act does address this issue to some extent, although it mainly applies to the preparation of food prior to it being made available for public consumption. It is not unlawful for a business or organisation to arrange food for public consumption by way of a ‘help yourself buffet’. In this situation, it would be appropriate to encourage all members to make proper use of the hand wash equipment made available to them in the Club’s toilets. Clearly, any members who are concerned about the manner in which the food is presented may choose not to partake in the consumption of it and this may be a general point that you wish to raise with your Club’s Committee.


Q. We recently had an incident in a Committee Meeting where a Committee Member made foul and abusive remarks about another Committee Member. The Member was subsequently disciplined. How should we record this in the minutes?

A. As this matter was discussed at a Committee meeting and an action taken as a direct result of the discussion, both the discussion and the action taken should be recorded in the minutes. The minutes are there to be an accurate record of what went on at a Committee meeting and are an important reference for future Committees to know what went on at any given Committee meeting and what action was taken. It is important that actions of this nature are included within the minutes to allow a future Committee to understand the history behind a particular member and their disciplinary situation. We suggest you simply record the nature of the discussion that took place and the action that was then chosen to be taken by the Committee. Maintaining the confidentiality of Committee Minutes is very important for allowing a free discussion to take place. The Minutes of Committee meetings should record the motions and amendments and decisions which are agreed and should, in the majority of occasions, remain confidential. This does not mean that there are never circumstances in which the membership ought to be informed of what takes place during committee meetings. In all Clubs there are issues which are of immediate concern to all the membership. The Committee may have discussed some matter referred to it by a general meeting for consideration. In such cases, the Secretary should arrange for a suitable notice to be posted on the Club’s Notice Board. However, the general membership does not have a right to inspect the Committee’s Minutes.


Q. I remember reading about ‘Fit to Work’ notes which were meant to have been introduced last year but have heard no more about how they should be implemented.

A. Officially 2010 saw the introduction of “Fit to Work Notes” which are meant to replace sick notes and tell employees what an employee was capable of doing. However take up of this scheme has been limited with no clubs to my knowledge having yet being presented with such a note. However, GP’s are meant to issue such notes instead of sick notes and so it is only a matter of time until they become more common. Should you have an employee who is on sick leave they you are perfectly entitled to ask them to get their GP to produce a Fit to Work Note for the Club.

Q. Our club has a group of ten members who belong to a gun club; periodically they go on pheasant shoots. They follow all legal requirements which apply to them in the handling and storage of their guns when on our club premises. However, I have been asked if there is any legal conditions connected with allowing guns on the Club’s premises?

A. We have contacted the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and they have clarified that if a gun is kept with its owner in a slip or case then there are no legal restrictions with it being brought into a licensed or Club premises. Having said that, we would strongly recommend that you check with your insurance providers to ascertain the Club’s position should there be any incident involving a weapon. Ultimately, it would be a decision for the Committee to make based on the specific circumstances of the Club. Just because it is legal to have guns on a licensed or Club premises does not mean that the Committee are unable to agree that Members should be prevented from bringing guns onto the premises.


Q. We have business tenants renting parts of the Club. Can you tell us if we should be paying VAT on the rental income?

A.  Property rent does not have VAT charged on it unless the business charging the rent goes through the formal “opt to tax” process. I would imagine that this is not the case with the Club. Effectively this means that there is no VAT charged on letting property unless you have completed the specific VAT forms that would make it payable. However, should the Club rent a room for a function, e.g. also providing catering services as well then this will be VAT applicable. However, this would not appear to apply in your case.


Q. Can you let us know if we should update the ACC contract of employment to reflect the changes in legislation that happened in 2009?

A.  The regulations regarding unfair dismissal were relaxed in 2009, in so far as an employer who has not followed the correct procedure will not automatically be found against. However, importantly an employer must still show that they have used a proper disciplinary procedure and it is therefore beneficial if the structure of such a procedure is laid down in the contract of employment. With this structure in place, an employee cannot argue that the disciplinary procedure was unfair, unknown or a surprise since they would have been aware of the Club’s disciplinary procedure prior to signing their contract of employment. Additionally, the disciplinary procedure in our contracts of employment comply in every respect with ACAS’s code of practice. In short, I am aware of the change in legislation which took place 18 months ago but there was no advantage to Clubs in removing the procedure which our model contracts contained for the simple reason that a clear procedure in respect of disciplinary action is beneficial and ultimately is required in order to prove that dismissal is not unfair.


Q. We are trying to set up an account regarding potential investments and are having difficulty is describing the set up of our Club. We have Trustees but do not issue shares to members.

A. The Club is an Unincorporated Association. The property of the Club, both real and personal, is vested in the names of elected Trustees who hold this on behalf of the Club and its objects. The constitution of the Club is the Club Rule book. As an Unincorporated Association, an investment cannot be made in the name of ‘Conservative Club’ since the Club has no legal identity. The investment shall have to be made in the names of the Trustees acting on behalf of the Conservative Club. We have found in recent years that a number of investment companies and even high street banks will not accept business from this type of Constituted Association. The refusal to carry out this business is normally, of course, a result of ignorance of the legal position. In other words, if a box cannot be ticked the system cannot work. Legally there is no reason why a Conservative Club cannot invest surplus funds in a way that will be beneficial for the objects of the Club. There are some types of investments which are not open to the Club. For example Premium Bonds and ISAs, however there is certainly no restrictions on placing the money in a high interest account or a guaranteed investment bond which may be offered by a High Street Bank. Naturally the Club would not wish to risk money and most Clubs do not have share portfolios. You will just need to find a financial services provider which is willing to work with an Unincorporated Association.


Q. A Member asked if he could sell cards and wrapping paper in the Club in the lead up to Easter. I have my reservations. Is it legal to let him to do this and if so, should I be asking him for any documentation or assurances?

A.  I would strongly advise you from allowing this type of activity from taking place from within the Club. Without wishing to be unkind, you have no idea where the products which intend to be sold come from and have no idea whether this is a legitimate business, by permitting such a sale to take place within the Club the Club may be taking on a responsibility for this activity. It may be that members would be asked to order cards and paper and make a payment at the time of ordering. If the orders are not met then members may seek redress from the Club. There is another point which I think is equally important. If the Club allow this person to run a ‘business activity’ from the Club how could they say ‘n’o to another person who may wish to sell timeshares or Tupperware or any other type of similar ‘home-selling’ product. Ultimately it is up to the Committee. If I was on the Committee I would vote no but this would be no reflection on the person involved.

Q. We have read that some Clubs have received their refunds from HMRC relating to the Linneweber gaming case. However, we have not received anything yet, should we be worried?

A. Some Clubs have received their claims and some of those have also received their additional claim for interest. I understand that this matter is being dealt with by HMRC in Belfast and they are dealing with each case in the same order in which claims were originally received and on an individual basis. They intend to get all claims repaid by then end of March 2011. If you wanted to check to see where your claim is in the list you could always get in touch with your local HMRC office but I appreciate that this could involve a great deal of time listening to music whilst waiting on the telephone.


Q. We wish to hold an event in the Club purely for Members. Are we able to prevent IA Ticket holders from coming into the Club for this specific event?

A. I confirm that Regulation 8 of the Rules and Regulations Governing the IA Ticket Scheme provides the Committee of any Club with the authority to make any Club event Member only. Such events are, of course, likely to be infrequent.