Charity (Registration) Begins at Home

20 March 2013

Author: Gerard Armstrong
Practice Area: Charity Law
Sector: Not for Profit

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Charities are facing the biggest regulatory shake-up ever with the impending introduction of new legislation which will amend the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (the "Charities Act").

The Charities Bill is making its way through the Northern Ireland Assembly and is now at Committee stage, this will be followed by a period of public consultation. It is anticipated that the Charities Act will be passed in its final form in early 2013.

Requirement to register

Section 16 of the Charities Act requires all charities in Northern Ireland to register with the Charities Commission for Northern Ireland (this applies to all charities regardless of whether they are currently registered with HMRC or not). The current aim is to commence registration by spring 2013.

What does this mean for charities here in Northern Ireland? All charitable organisations, from the largest to the smallest, constituted in Northern Ireland will be required to register with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. 

Testing of Charities

Charities will be "tested" by the Charities Commission for Northern Ireland. In essence, a charity will have to show:

  • that it passes the new statutory "public benefit" test; and
  • that all matters of governance are in order.

Public benefit test

It is an essential requirement of the Charities Act that all charities must be for the public benefit and there will be no presumption that a purpose of a particular description is for the public benefit. In assessing this factor, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will look at the benefit gained or likely to be gained by those who are members of the charity (and others who stand to benefit from the charity but not as members of the public) against any detriment incurred or likely to be incurred by the public. 

Governance issues

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will want to see that all governing documents are in order regardless of whether the charity is a trust, unincorporated association or company limited by guarantee. In particular the Commission will want to see that the aims or "objects" of the organisation are capable of being charitable. 

Importance of registration

The importance of registration for charities cannot be understated.  If a charity wishes to benefit from charitable tax exemptions it will be required register with HMRC for tax purposes.  If the Charities Commission for Northern Ireland refuses registration then HMRC will not accept an application from that organisation. The repercussions of this for Gift Aid are obvious.

Carson McDowell LLP is dedicated to assisting charities to succeed in this new regulatory environment and can. It is Carson McDowell LLP's commitment that our Charities Act team will offer these services for an agreed "no surprise" fee. If you have any enquiries or would just like to talk to one of our team about what is required, please contact a member of our Charity Law team:

Gerard Armstrong 

T. +44 (0)28 9034 8917

E. [email protected] 

Jason JohnstonT. +44 (0)28 9034 8817

E. [email protected]

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