Frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions Image

A. General information about the Charity Commission for Nothern Ireland.

B. Charity regulation and the powers of the Commission.

C. Charity registration.

We would strongly encourage anyone who would like information on charity registration to refer to one of our guidance documents, which include our Registering as a charity in Northern Ireland guidance, The public benefit requirement statutory guidance (charity trustees must have regard to this guidance when starting, registering, running and reporting on their charity) and the supporting documents on the 12 charitable purposes. These documents are available to read or download here.

D. Charity accounting requirements.

E. Establishing/closing/merging a new charity.

F. General questions.

G. Where can I find help and advice on:

A. General information about the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland. We are responsible for ensuring that Northern Ireland has a dynamic and well governed charity sector, in which the public can have confidence.

The Commission is a non-departmental public body supported by the Department for Social Development (DSD) and established under the Charities Act (NI) 2008.

The functions of the Commission are laid down in the Charities Act and include:

• determining whether organisations are in fact charities and maintain an accurate and up-to-date register of charities 
• encouraging the better administration of charities
• providing information, advice and guidance where appropriate
• identifying and investigating alleged misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charities.

The Commission has been broadly welcomed by charities within Northern Ireland, many of whom have been advocating the introduction of regulation for some time.


B. Charity regulation and the powers of the Commission.

What does charity regulation mean?

As the new regulator for charities operating in Northern Ireland, the Charity Commission helps to ensure that charities can operate effectively within a strong and clearly defined legal, accounting and governance framework.

In practice this means that every organisation operating as a charity within Northern
Ireland must demonstrate that they are doing so within the requirements of the law.

Regulation will help to ensure that:
• charities maintain their independence
• organisations operating as charities have purely charitable purposes
• organisations operating as charities are run for public benefit, and not for private advantage
• all reports of serious mismanagement or deliberate abuse by or within charities are detected and remedied
• the public can have confidence in charities operating in Northern Ireland.

Regulation has been a feature of the charity sector in England and Wales for almost thirty years. In Scotland, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has been operational since 2005.

The Charities Act (NI) 2008 is a lengthy and detailed piece of legislation. As such the powers contained within the Act are not all brought into force on one single date. Rather, they are given effect through various Commencement Orders. These Orders roll out specific sections of the Act in a way that is co-ordinated and gradual.

Following a number of separate Commencement Orders to date, the Commission has a range of powers which are exercised regularly.

What investigatory powers does the Commission have?

The Charity Commission seeks to protect charities where there has been serious misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the charity. We may also intervene if it is necessary or desirable to act to protect property or the proper application of charity assets.

We can do this through the launch of an investigation, and if necessary, an intervention which is aimed at protecting the charity; its beneficiaries, donors, assets and reputation.

Members of the public should contact the Commission if they have a concern about the operation of a charity within Northern Ireland. Not all concerns lead to investigations: we will not, for example, investigate a concern if there is no evidence to back it up.

We will however look into the affairs of a charity and instigate a statutory enquiry if the concern raised is serious and evidence-based. All of our actions will be proportionate to the concern raised; in most cases we are able to work with the charity involved to resolve any issues without having to recourse to using our statutory tools.

What other powers does the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland have?

In addition to our investigatory powers, the Commission has a range of other powers which are utilised regularly. These include: 

->Providing information and advice.
The Commission has the power to give advice and guidance on any matter relating to the performance of a Trustee's duties. This will empower charities and enable them to work on their internal structures to ensure good governance within the organisation.

->Requiring a charity to change its name.
In certain instances the Commission can require a charity to change its name. These instances include where a name:

- misleads the public as to the true nature of the charity's purpose or activities

- includes a word or expression which is likely to mislead the public as to the status of the charity

- gives the impression that it is connected in some way to a particular cause or matter, when in fact it is not

- is offensive.

->A summary of other powers include:

• to call for documents and search records
• to disclose information or compel the disclosure of information
• to give specific directions to protect a charity such as suspend or remove a trustee
• to determine the membership of a charity
• to authorise dealings with charity property
• to authorise ex gratia payments, etc
• to give directions about dormant bank accounts
• to enter premises.

The powers of the Commission will increase incrementally as other Commencement Orders come into force. The Commission's website will provide updates as this process develops.

C. Charity registration.

Why do we need charity registration?

Prior to the establishment of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, there was no form of local (Northern Ireland) charity registration and only limited provision for enforcement of charity law.

This changed with the creation of an independent regulator and register of Northern Ireland charities, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. The creation of a commission was advocated for by Northern Ireland charities and brings charity regulation into line with Scotland, England and Wales.

Applying for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland should not be viewed as a daunting process, as the information required is information that charities should be keeping anyway. In fact, registration should bring a number of benefits both to charities and the wider general public.

Charities, for example, can wear their registration as a badge of honour, demonstrating that they have been legally confirmed as a charity and are open, accountable and transparent.

Members of the public, donors, beneficiaries and organisations such as grant making bodies and other support groups, will be able to use the online register of charities as a publicly accessible database of all Northern Ireland charities.

When did charity registration begin?

The Commission began registration on Monday 16 December 2013. It is important to note that registration will not happen overnight. It is estimated that there are between 7,000 and 12,000 charities currently operating in Northern Ireland, ranging from churches, clubs and drop-in groups to societies and umbrella bodies.

Therefore, registration will be a managed process over coming years. Organisations will be called forward by the Commission in tranches to apply for registration. You can find out more information on how the Commission will manage registration in our Registering as a charity in Northern Ireland guidance.

Will registration with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland mean automatic charitable tax status with HMRC?

No, you will have to first apply to register with the Commission as a charity before applying separately to HMRC for charitable tax status.

If you already have charitable tax status with HMRC prior to registering with the Commission, you will not need to reapply to HMRC and your HMRC reference number will remain the same.

I have already registered with HMRC, why do I have to register again?

HMRC do not regulate charities. This role falls specifically to the Commission and as a consequence makes charities much more accountable to the public.

Holding an HMRC number means that your organisation has been granted charitable tax exemptions by HMRC, which makes its assessment under the Finance Act 2010. It does not mean your organisation is a registered charity.

Only organisations which have successfully registered with the Commission will be classed as charities. Each registered charity will receive a unique NIC (Northern Ireland Charity) number.

I would like to start a new charity – do I need to register with the Commission before I apply to HMRC regarding Gift Aid?

Yes, as registration has now commenced, you will need to successfully register as a charity with the Commission first in order to apply to HMRC for charitable tax exemptions. Registration with the Commission is not a guarantee of receiving charitable tax status with HMRC, which makes an independent assessment under the Finance Act.

If you have started a new a new charity, please complete the online Expression of intent form to provide your details to the Commission, enabling you to be called forward to apply for charity registration.

While I am waiting to register, can I still claim Gift Aid?

Yes, while you are awaiting registration as a charity with the Commission, it will still be possible to claim Gift Aid if you have already been granted charitable tax status by HMRC.

If you are successfully registered as a charity by the Commission, you will not need to reapply to HMRC for charitable tax status and your HMRC number will remain the same

If I am not registered, will I lose my HMRC status?

If you are unsuccessful in the registration process, the Commission will notify HMRC.  HMRC provide charitable tax benefits under the Finance Act 2010 and any decision to remove charitable benefits will be reassessed by them. 

If you do not make your application for registration within three months from the date at which your organisation is called forward, the Commission will notify HMRC that your application has not been submitted and your gift aid entitlement may be withdrawn/suspended until your application is submitted.

How much does it cost to apply?

There is no fee to apply for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland. 
 
Are there penalties for not applying?

There are no exceptions or exemptions to applying for charity registration, which is compulsory for all charities.

Failure to apply to register when called forward, or failing to supply us with the required documents and information, is a breach of the Charities Act and the Commission may pursue the issue through the courts. It will also result in the loss of your recognition as a charity, including for tax purposes, which could mean HMRC will no longer pay Gift Aid to your organisation. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Will I have to apply every year?

No, registration is a one off process. However, you will be required to notify us of any change, for example if your charity closes, and keep us updated on your activities via the annual reporting regime for registered charities.

At present, charities in Northern Ireland are not required to submit annual monitoring returns or accounts and reports to the Commission for inspection. This is set to change now that regsitration has begun, with annual reporting by charities playing an important role in the Commission’s regulation and monitoring work as well as helping to ensure the register of charities is accurate and up to date.

In the future it will be compulsory for all registered charities to provide information on their activities, governance and finances on an annual basis and submit their accounts and reports to the Commission for inspection. Providing information to the Commission on an annual basis will be known as ‘annual reporting’ and it is intended that the annual reporting programme will consist of three main elements:

  • Annual monitoring return
  • Annual accounts
  • Trustee annual report

The Commission recently ran a public consultation on its draft interim reporting requirements, which closed on Friday 13 December 2013. You can find out more about the consultation and the reporting requirements which registered charities will have to meet online here.

What if my application isn’t successful - what should I do next?

If your application for registration is unsuccessful, we will write to you explaining why we have reached this decision. This should inform your next steps as an organisation, and you may be able to reapply in the future.

We will also explain the process you can use if you disagree with our decision or feel that we have misunderstood your application and wish to challenge the decision.

I have issued myself with a password using the 'Issue a new password' button on the system but when I try to log in using the password received, why do I keep getting an error message?

The 'Issue a new password' button will only work for organisations which have been called forward for registration and have an account set up for the online registration system.  If you have not yet been called forward for registration, please do not use the 'Issue a new password' button as you will be unable to access the online system using this password. 

If you have been called forward for registration and have forgotten or lost your password, you may use the 'Issue a new password' button to send a new password to the email address linked to your account.  If you have been called forward for registration and have attempted to issue yourself with a new password but received an error message, please contact the Commission immediately on 028 3832 0220.

 

D. Charity accounting requirements.

Do charities have to submit financial information as part of current regulatory procedures?

For information on current annual reporting requirements, please see our Charity reporting: interim arrangements and the annual return webpage.

Once registered as a charity with the Commission will I still need to file my accounts with Companies House?

Yes, if your organisation is registered as a company with Companies House, you will still be required to file your accounts with them in addition to the annual financial returns submitted to the Commission.

E. Establishing/closing/merging a charity.

How can I create a new charity?

Establishing a new charity is an exciting - and potentially daunting -prospect which requires serious consideration. This includes thinking about whether there are existing charities with the same purposes and activities as yours, and governance issues surrounding the operation of the new charity. The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) operates a charity governance and advice service to provide help with such issues.

You will need to successfully register as a charity with the Commission first in order to apply to HMRC for charitable tax exemptions. Registration with the Commission is not a guarantee of receiving charitable tax status with HMRC, which makes an independent assessment under the Finance Act. The HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website provides useful information on how to apply for charitable tax status, specifically the Tax Guidance for Charities section. The HMRC charity helpline telephone number for HMRC is 08453-020203 (Bootle, Liverpool).

How do I close or wind up a charity?

Please see the Mergers and closures section of our website for infomation on closing a charity


How do I merge my charity with another charity?

Please see the Mergers and closures section of our website for infomation on merging your charity with another charity.

F. General information.

Please see the case study page of our website for practical examples of how the Charities Act (NI) 2008 is applied at present.

Can someone from the Commission come to speak to my organisation about charity regulation?

The Commission are keen to engage with as many groups and organisations as possible. However, with a limited number of staff, it is not possible to get out to every group that requests a briefing.

What we can do however is speak to a number of groups during one session. This may involve, for example, organising a single session with a number of local groups or organisations.

For more information on organising a briefing on any aspect of charity regulation please contact us on admin@charitycommissionni.org.uk

How can I contact the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland?

Our preferred, and most effective method of contact us is via email: admin@charitycommissionni.org.uk

Telephone
If you need to speak to someone over the phone you can call us on 028 3832 0220 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, except public holidays. If you have a media or public affairs enquiry, you can contact our Communications Officer Shirley Kernan on 07827338978 or email shirley.kernan@charitycommissionni.org.uk

Post
Email is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way for you to contact us. We ask you if at all possible not to write to the Commission, but to email us instead. However, if you are unable to use email you can write to us at the following address:

Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
257 Lough Road
Lurgan
Craigavon
BT66 6NQ

Or call on

Telephone: 02838320220
Text number: 02838347639
Fax number: 02838345943

G. Where can I get help and advice on other issues including:


funding opportunities for charities including how to obtain street collection permits

further advice for trustees.

Currently charities and other community organisations carrying out a public collection will need to seek a permit from the Police Service for Northern Ireland. The station local to where the collection is being held should be contacted. 

 The permit will set out the conditions under which the collection or collections are to be carried out. The Charities Act (NI) 2008 provides for the issuing of permits by the Commission, however this section of the legislation is yet to be commenced.

In the longer term the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will produces its own guidance to help charities in these and other areas. Until then useful information is available from the following organisations:

The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA)
www.nicva.org (External link)

The Charity Commission (England & Wales)
www.charity-commission.gov.uk (External Link)

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
www.PTA.org.uk (External link)

The Department of Social Development, Voluntary & Community Unit www.dsdni.gov.uk/guide_for_trustees.doc (MS Word, 186Kb) (External link)

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