​Charitable Companies: Duties of charity trustees

07 January 2019

Author: Rosie Timoney
Practice Area: Charity Law
Sector: Not for Profit


When a trustee joins the board of a charitable company they will inevitably be offered some corporate governance training. This training can often throw up legal jargon and rhyme off legislation which can be overwhelming. This article aims to set out simply and clearly the key duties of trustees under charity law.

Charitable trustees have overall control of a charitable company and are responsible for making sure it’s doing what it was set up to do. They may be known by other titles, such as:

  • directors
  • board members
  • governors
  • committee members

Charitable trustees must all observe the requirements under the relevant legislation. In Northern Ireland there are two key pieces of legislation that will apply:

The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008

This is the main body of legislation which will apply to charities in Northern Ireland. It established the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (the “Commission”) and contains provisions relation to its powers and function.

The Trustee Act (Northern Ireland) 1958 as amended by the Trustee Act (Northern Ireland) 2001

This is the main body of legislation which sets out the responsibilities of trustees in Northern Ireland.

In terms of their key duties, charitable trustees must comply with their duties under charity law. The Commission provides detailed guidance in their “Running your charity guidance” which can be found here. In brief those duties extend as follows:

Compliance with the Charities Act and other legislation

A trustee must endeavour to ensure that their organisation complies with charity law and the requirements of the Commission. This is a broad duty and covers such matters as:

  • making sure the requirements imposed by other relevant legislation e.g health and safety law are complied with;
  • that annual returns and accounts are filed properly and on time; and
  • that the charitable company does not breach any of the requirements or rules set out in its governing document and remains true to its charitable purposes.

Acting with care and diligence

As someone responsible for governing a charitable company, a trustee must use reasonable care and skill, making use of their skills and experience and taking appropriate advice when necessary and should give enough time, thought and energy to their role, for example by preparing for, attending and actively participating in all trustees’ meetings.

Acting in the best interests of the charity

Charitable trustees must act in the best interests of the charity and only within the purposes of the charity.

If you would like any further information or advice, please do not hesitate to contact Rosie Timoney or one of the other members of the Charity Law Team at Carson McDowell.