If you are a journalist and interested in the work of the Charity Commission, the following information may be of use to you. You can also contact Communications Officer Shirley Kernan on 028 3832 0169 or 07827338978 if you would like to discuss any issue in relation to the Commission.
Recent press releases and media statements:
Commission begins series of public consultation events across Northern Ireland -March 2013
Commission opens consultation on public benefit and registration guidance - February 2013
Royal Assent puts charity registration on tracks for late 2013
Charity good governance on the agenda in Tyrone and Fermanagh - June 2012
More news items.
“The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) is the new independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland. The Commission is responsible for ensuring Northern Ireland has a dynamic and well governed charities sector, in which the public can have confidence.”
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was established in March 2009 as a non-Departmental Public Body supported by the Department for Social Development (DSD), and was constituted by the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
The objective of the new regulator is to assure the public that charities operating in Northern Ireland can demonstrate their contribution to society, and that they are operating within the law.
The Aims of the Charity Commission
The charitable sector in Northern Ireland is well established, diverse and vibrant. There are a broad range of charities doing good work on the ground here. These charities vary tremendously in size, remit and activities.
Before the establishment of the Charity Commission the charities sector was administered by DSD. There was no form of local charity regulation and only limited provision for enforcement of legal obligations and good governance.
The only type of formal registration was with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) which can recognise organisations as charities for tax purposes and provide them with a unique HMRC reference number. If a charity does not wish to be registered for tax purposes they are under no obligation to apply to HMRC.
By providing a framework and statutory obligation for registration and regulation, the Charity Commission brings governance of the charitable sector in Northern Ireland into line with similar standards across other UK regions.
The Commission will also play a crucial role in the future development of charities. Regulation will assist them in meeting the expectations, challenges and obligations associated with the contemporary drive for efficiency, efficacy and good governance in the sector.
The current standing of the Commission - a snapshot in time
In June 2010 the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland referred a technical problem with the wording of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 back to the DSD for consideration.
To rectify the problem, the Northern Ireland Assembly must agree new primary legislation in the form of an amendment to the Charities Act.
In July 2012 the Charities Bill was introduced into the NI Assembly. The Commission welcomed the introduction of the Bill and is pleased that progress towards charity registration is being made. View the Commission's statement in response to the introduction of the Bill.
The once the legislative amendment is passed by the NI Assembly, the Charity Commission hopes to consult on our public benefit in Spring 2013, with the registration of the first 20 test charities then likely to begin late in 2013.
Main registration is then likely to open late in 2013. The Commission would like the legislative amendment to be passed as quickly as possible, giving us the green light to begin to register the estimated 7,000-10,000 Northern Ireland charities. The Commission website will provide regular updates on our work with the Assembly and DSD on this legislative process.
Despite its importance, however, registration is only one aspect of the work of the Commission. Investigatory powers, for example, were commenced in February 2011. The Commission can therefore intervene and take action when things have gone wrong within a charity. A range of other powers to regulate charities here are also in operation, some of which are touched upon below.
Key areas of work
Investigations: Intervening when things have gone wrong within a charity
Charities touch some of the most important aspects of our lives and people care deeply about the causes that charities are involved with. Unfortunately however things can go wrong within a charity and instances of fraud and mismanagement do occur.
Intervening to protect charities when there is serious risk of harm or abuse is therefore an important feature of regulation. Harm can happen in relation to the charity itself, to its assets, its beneficiaries or its reputation.
The Charity Commission will intervene if that course of action is deemed to be evidence-based and proportionate. The decision whether or not to intervene in the affairs of a charity will follow an individual and specific assessment with every case, taking account of the risk involved and the capacity of the charity to comply.
In order to be able investigate charities, however, the Charity Commission must be able to categorise which groups operate as charities. Until registration begins, this is technically not possible within Northern Ireland. In the interim, the Commission deems charities to be organisations who have registered with HM Revenue and Customs for charitable tax purposes. This list of charities is termed the "deemed list". Members of the public can raise a confidential concern in relation to any organisation published on this list.
Investigating concerns about charities
In January 2012 the Charity Commission received its 100th concern about a charity, with these concerns coming mostly from members of the public. The Commission issued a report in response to the 100th concern, the “100 Lessons to be Learned Report”. The report is published on the Commission website. Read the report.
The concerns raised and investigations conducted to date have involved charities across the entire spectrum of the sector. Some relate to large and well known charities, while others relate to smaller charities operating on a more localised basis.
Other live powers
The Charity Commission can also:
• require a charity to change its name, for example where it is offensive or misleading;
• give specific directions to protect a charity such as to suspend or remove a trustee;
• authorise special payments, for example facilitating the payment of creditors when a charity is wound up;
• give its opinion or advice to a charity trustee on the performance of their duties, if the trustee asks for that opinion or advice
Preparing for Registration
In time all charitable organisations, no matter how large or small, will be under a statutory obligation to register with the Commission. The registration process will produce a publically available list of registered charities
These organisations will be given a unique Northern Ireland Charity Registration Number (NIC number) and must submit to annual inspections of their governance and finances.
The Commission has undertaken a significant amount of work in preparing for the commencement of registration. With an estimated 7,000-10,000 charitable organisations operating within Northern Ireland, it is vital that the Commission’s procedures and processes are sound.
The future vision of the Commission
In the longer term, and with full powers commenced, the Commission will regulate all registered charities through the inspection of annual governance reports and financial returns. This will allow better supervision, regulation and support of charities.
As powers are commenced, the Charity Commission will become a guarantor of the concept of charity, which has for centuries held a privileged place in our society.