Charity Law: Registration with The Charity Commission For Northern Ireland
19 November 2013
Practice Area: Charity Law
In short, registration with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) is going to be compulsory. The CCNI is required, under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (the Act), to keep a register of charities. The Act states that every institution which is a charity under the law of Northern Ireland must be registered in the register of charities.
The process of registration has begun with a test group of charities currently going through the process. Once the process starts in earnest charities will be called forward for registration.
Your charity must be registered if it wants to benefit from the gift aid scheme. If you are currently registered as a charity with HMRC then you can claim gift aid, however over time this list will be phased out and charities that are not registered with the CCNI will not be able to file a gift aid return. It is therefore in the interests of every charity in NI to prepare for the impending registration process.
The Public benefit requirement
It is an essential requirement of the Act that all charities must have purposes (or “objects”) that fall under one of the twelve descriptions of purposes listed in the Act those being: the prevention or relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, the advancement of health or the saving of lives, the advancement of citizenship or community development, the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science, and the advancement of amateur sport to name but a few.
Charities must also be able to show that their purposes are for the “public benefit”. Prior to the Act there was a “presumption” in favour of public benefit for any charitable activity falling within the following “heads of charity”: the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or the advancement of religion. The presumption was based on the idea that such charitable actions were, by their very nature beneficial to the community and should therefore be recognised as being charitable. The Act removes the presumption in favour of public benefit, but it also states that the law relating to charities in Northern Ireland remains as is (i.e. based on the body of case law that has developed over the centuries, it should be noted that the main body of case law is derived from the courts of England and Wales). Therefore in order to ascertain whether a particular purpose is for the public benefit or not it is necessary to assess it in light of the relevant case law.
The Carson McDowell LLP Charity team offers comprehensive charity law advice and covers a number of disciplines such as charity formation, takeovers and mergers, employment, property matters and registration with CCNI.
If you would like to discuss any issues affecting your charitable organisation or find out more about the impending registration process then please contact a member of our team.