Boost Giving with Gift Aid; People throughout the Country Have Donated Thousands to Help Afghan Children Caught Up in the Current Conflict. Jane Hall Looks at How You Can Make Your Charity Go a Little Further Thanks to Tax-Friendly Schemes

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WINTER is fast approaching, and for the millions of Afghan refugees caught up in what is becoming one of the world's most acute humanitarian emergencies, their suffering is set to deepen.

Some 7.5 million people are estimated to be at immediate risk, of whom 70pc are women and children.

Fear of war has forced millions of Afghans to flee their homes and more than 2.5 million are already in camps in Iran and Pakistan.

Add to this the mental and financial anguish of the families affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks in America, and it's no wonder that aid agencies are crying out for money to help ease these innocent victims plight.

It is a message that has touched the hearts of people across the globe, with stars such as Tom Cruise, David Bowie, Celine Dion and Sir Paul McCartney boosting charities by answering phones at telethons or singing at concerts for families of victims of the US attacks.

Money has been coming in at the rate of pounds 500 a day to the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and supply trucks are already on their way into Afghanistan.

Emergency appeals like this make a big impact for charities, but did you know that you can make even the smallest donation go further thanks to tax-friendly schemes?

Gift Aid is a government-backed scheme introduced in October 1990, which allows people to boost contributions to any UK-registered charity. It can be used for lump sum or regular contributions of any size and gives charities the opportunity to reclaim 22pc basic-rate tax from the Inland Revenue.

For example, a donation of pounds 7.80 from a basic-rate taxpayer nets pounds 10, or pounds 50 could be converted into pounds 64.10 for a charity.

Higher-rate tax payers can also reclaim the 18pc difference between the higher rate and basic rate of tax when they fill in self-assessment tax forms - a pleasant reward for their generosity that will reduce the cost of a pounds 10 donation to pounds 6.

The extra generated on smaller sums may not sound a lot, but as UNICEFs Louis Coles says: "Every penny counts. If you add all those extra pence up it can come to a substantial amount."

He cites the campaign launched earlier this year which raised pounds 15,000 for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake in India, as an example of how Gift Aid could have substantially boosted contributions made by readers.

"If everyone had taken up the Gift Aid option it would have meant we could have raised an extra pounds 4,200 which would have bought 6,100 blankets.

"But if you want to turn it into really small figures, in the case of the Afghan appeal we are running at the moment, UNICEF is involved in a polio vaccination campaign in the country which is continuing despite the bombardment.

"For every pounds 1 donated, if we could redeem Gift Aid on it which is equivalent to 28.2p, it would mean we could protect an extra four children against polio as it costs seven pence for every phial of vaccine."

UNICEF is currently sending out letters to all people who have donated more than pounds 10 asking if they wish to take advantage of the Gift Aid scheme - either through their one-off contribution or by continuing their support for the charity.

Louis says: "I would urge people not to ignore the letters so we can make the maximum of their donation. All they have to do is tick the relevant box.

"We appreciate that some people prefer to give to charity anonymously, but it is also important that we make as much of their money as we can."

And there has never been a better time to do that. Until recently, Gift Aid was only open to those making donations of between pounds 250 and pounds 1,200. But the government has now relaxed the rules so any gift, small or large, regular or one-off, could qualify for the tax relief.

Gift Aid donations may be made over the phone with credit cards because there is no need to sign any forms. …