Charity registration: FAQs
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland’s website contains a wide range of information and support on all aspects of charity registration, annual reporting and charity governance.
The Commission would request that all callers, prior to telephoning the Commission, please check to ensure their query cannot be answered by using the guidance and information available on its website.
This will support the Commission in continuing its work to process the thousands of applications it has received, and will continue to receive, from Northern Ireland’s charities over coming months.
Please find below answers to some of the frequent questions received by the Commission on charity registration. If you click on a question it will bring you to the answer for that query.
Alternatively, you can find a range of support and guidance on registration in the Registration support section of the website. This includes the Public benefit and purposes toolkit, a link to the online registration tutorial on YouTube and screenshots of the online registration application.
If your query is not one which can be answered using the information on our website, please use the online Contact us form to submit your query. The registration team is extremely busy processing submitted applications, however we will contact you with our response as soon as possible.
Frequently asked questions
- Does my organisation have to register?
- My organisation meets the criteria for charity registration, what do I do now?
- I am not sure if the Commission has my details for charity registration – what should I do?
- I have completed an Expression of Intent form but haven’t heard anything – how long until I am called forward for registration?
- I need to submit my charity registration application as soon as possible – what can I do?
- I have submitted my registration application – how long until I am registered?
- I have heard there is a backlog of registration applications – does this mean my application will be delayed?
- How can I book a place on a registration workshop?
- I can’t log on to the online registration application.
- My password / log in details aren’t working.
- I have requested a new password and now I am not sure which one to use.
- I’m trying to complete my registration application but it’s asking for my charity number.
- I started my registration application but logged off and now it has been lost.
- The registration application won’t recognise my Companies House number.
- How do I update my email address, home address, and contact names?
- Can I request an extension on the deadline for submitting my registration application?
- Can I have a paper application form?
- If I make a mistake can I go back and correct it?
- Where is the trustee declaration?
- I am applying for funding and it asks for a charity number, but I have not yet completed registration. What do I do?
- I’m unable to type in the purposes section of the application - there is already information there.
- What is an approved governing document?
- How long does the registration process take after I submit my application?
- I have issued myself with a password using the 'Issue a new password' button but when I try to log in using the password received, I keep getting an error message.
- We have applied for registration but the Commission said we need to amend our purposes as they are not all exclusively charitable. Do we need to change our purposes or can we continue operating without charitable status?
An organisation must apply to the Commission for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland, regardless of its income, size or whether or not it has received charitable tax status from HMRC, if it meets the definition of a charity, that is
- it has exclusively charitable purposes
- it is governed by the law of Northern Ireland
- it has control and direction over its governance and resources.
If your organisation meets the criteria it must apply for registration.
My organisation meets the criteria for charity registration, what do I do now?
If your organisation meets the criteria to apply for registration as a charity you should now check to see if the organisation is listed on the Commission’s registration list. You can do that here. Once you have checked the list, please follow the next steps, as outlined on this webpage, according to your charity’s situation.
For example, if you are not on the registration list you must complete an online Expression of Intent form. This is a short form which will provide your contact details to the Commission so you can be called forward for registration at a future date. Alternatively, if you are listed, you should next check the Commission’s online tranche list to ensure your charity hasn’t already been called forward to apply for registration.
We would ask that you first check the online registration list to see if your organisation is included.
If your organisation is not included or is listed but marked as ‘No contact details’ then please follow the instructions outlined under the 'Next steps' section on this webpage, as appropriate to your organisation.
If your organisation is included on the registration list, you should next check the Commission's tranche list. If it appears that your organisation has already been called forward, but you have not heard from the Commission within a week of the date the tranche was called forward, please contact us as soon as possible to ensure the contact details held by the Commission for your organisation are up to date.
Organisations which submit an Expression of intent form are providing the Commission with their contact details so they can be added to a future registration tranche. We will normally acknowledge your Expression of intent form within a week of receipt and your organisation’s details will be added to the Registration list. You need not take any further action after submitting the form as the Commission will contact you at the appropriate time to call your organisation forward to apply for registration.
Please note that submitting an Expression of intent form does not mean that you will be called forward earlier than normal or that your registration application will be “fast tracked”.
The Commission understands that there may be occasions when an organisation might wish to submit their registration application earlier than normal, for example, organisations which need to use a particular power set out in the Charities Act for which registration is a condition.
These organisations are known as having special circumstances and, where appropriate, the Commission may be able to facilitate calling these organisations forward to apply for registration earlier than normal. However, it is important to note that the Commission is a small organisation with limited resources. Given the thousands of charities operating in Northern Ireland, registration must be operated via a managed process which is fair to all.
That is why it is important that organisations requesting special circumstances provide valid reasons for their request and understand that they may be asked to provide evidence. For example, while the register of charities is building, funding bodies in Northern Ireland are normally content that you are on the Commission’s registration list and therefore the Commission knows about your organisation for registration purposes. If, however, you have applied to a funding body and they have insisted on charity registration, you may ask to be called forward under special circumstances. Please note that you may be required to provide written confirmation from the funding body detailing this criteria.
If you would like to highlight any special circumstances relating to your organisation, please complete the online Expression of intent form (external link) outlining any valid reasons which you think apply.
The Commission aims to complete assessment of an application within three to four months of having received a completed application with all necessary supporting documentation. However, this will depend on a number of factors such as the quality of the application, the volume of applications we have received, the complexity of applications and whether we need to contact the charity to request further information.
The Commission is working hard to meet its target of having over 3,800 charities registered by the end of the 2015-16 financial year. To give you an example of this work, by the end of July 2015 the Commission had registered around 2,100 charities, with more charities added to the register on an often daily basis, and was busy processing a further 1,500 applications.
However, the registration process has been slower than anticipated, due to the poor quality of many of the applications received, which has necessitated a greater volume of support and follow up work by Commission staff than had been initially anticipated. To improve this assessment time, the Commission is urging all registration applicants to take steps to ensure they submit a strong application, with all the required information, by using the Commission’s free guidance to prepare. Find out more about the registration guidance and support tools available here.
Only organisations which have been called forward by the Commission to apply for registration are invited to a Commission registration workshop. This ensures that organisations receive face-to-face support as close as possible to the time of completing their application.
If you have been invited forward you can find details of forthcoming registration workshops in the email you received calling you forward for registration. You can book a place on one of the workshops via the Contact us section of the Commission’s website. This must be done via email as bookings cannot be taken over the telephone.
Please note, due to restrictions on space at workshop venues, only one representative from each organisation may attend a workshop.
Please ensure you are attempting to log on to the registration application in the correct section of the Commission’s website. You can log on to the application here.
Please note that only applicants which have been called forward by the Commission and have received a password to apply for registration will be able to log onto the system. If you have not yet been called forward, please follow the steps outlined here to prepare for registration in advance.
Alternatively, one of the answers below may be of use to you, for example, you may be using an incorrect password.
If you are still having difficulties logging on, please inform the Commission via the Contact us form, providing your name, the charity’s name and a contact telephone number.
The system is highly case sensitive so we would advise applicants to copy and paste the password from the email you received onto the registration application.
Please use the most recent password you have received.
The system is highly case sensitive so we would advise applicants to copy and paste the password from the email onto the registration application.
You are trying to log on to Online services which is a resource for charities that have already been successfully registered. Please ensure you are attempting to log on to the registration application in the correct section of the Commission website. You can log on to the application here.
Alternatively, from the homepage of www.charitycommissionni.org.uk click the green Register your charity button. On the Register your charity page you should then click on the green box Apply to register as a Northern Ireland charity. This will bring you to the online application for charity registration page, where you should click Enter the service on the right hand side to log on.
The application will only save after you have completed the first six, preliminary questions. After this point, you will receive an application number which you can use to log in and out of your application as you progress through it.
You will not be able to save your application until you have received this application number.
When submitting your Companies House number you must omit the NI; the number you provide should be figures only, for example if your Companies House number is NI012345, enter 012345 on the application form.
If you are registered as a charity then you can use the Commission’s Online services to update some of your charity’s details on the register of charities, keeping them up to date. The details you will be able to update are:
- charity contact details
- email addresses for Commission use and for public display
- financial year end
- your charity’s website address
- where your charity operates
- who does your charity help
- description of activities
- your trustees’ details.
If the charity's contact or email details are out of date, and you do not have a password or cannot access Online services, you can contact us to get them updated. For security reasons, any change of email details will be subject to a validation procedure.
If you are not yet registered, then please use the Commission’s Contact us form to update the charity details held by the Commission.
Extensions are considered on a case by case basis and requests must be submitted in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ensure you include contact details for the charity, the name of the charity and provide a clear reason why the extension is being requested.
The Commission will consider your request and respond with a decision as soon as possible.
Extensions requests submitted over the telephone will not be considered.
All applications for registration must be submitted using the online registration application form unless there are special circumstances such as accessibility requirements that mean no one within, or associated with, the organisation can use the online system. You will be able to read all of the questions on the application form and prepare your answers in advance by reviewing the screenshots of the online application system which are available on our website here.
Once you have completed the first six, preliminary sections of the application, and received your application number, you will be able to log in and out of the system, and correct information provided from the seventh section onwards.
However, you cannot change information provided in the first six sections. If it is a small amendment to any of these sections, we would advise you to let us know about the change to be made in the Special circumstances section at the end of your application.
All registration applications must include a completed trustee declaration.
You can find a blank copy of the trustee declaration here. Alternatively, from the homepage of www.charitycommissionni.org.uk click the green Registration support button on the left hand side. On the Registration support webpage, the trustee declaration can be found under point two Use the registration tools and guidance. It is the fifth hyperlink under this point.
Before submitting the trustee declaration, please ensure:
- all trustees listed in the application have signed and dated the declaration, and likewise, all trustees who have signed the trustee declaration are listed in the application
- signatures are dated with date of signature. Please note that we are not asking for a date of birth in the trustee declaration
- declaration boxes A and B are ticked if the organisation works with children and/or vulnerable people
- both pages of the trustee declaration are attached at the end of your application.
We would advise you to contact the funder and explain the situation, highlighting that they can check the Commission’s online registration list as verification that you will be (or have been) called forward for charity registration.
This indicates that, earlier in the application, you incorrectly selected that you are using an approved governing document. Unfortunately there is no way to amend this and you will need to start your application again.
Please note that the purposes stated in your application should be a replica of the purposes (sometimes referred to as objects or objectives) stated in your organisation’s governing document.
A charity's governing document is any document which sets out the charity's purposes and, usually, how it is to be administered.
An approved governing document is one that will be agreed with a sponsor or parent body, often a national umbrella body, and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, as suitable for registration in advance of the application being submitted.
Please answer “no” to this question unless you are using a governing document which has been pre-approved by the Commission. If you answer “yes”, there will be a drop down list of the governing documents approved by the Commission. If you do not see your governing document in the list, you should change your answer to “no”.
Please note that it is most unlikely that your governing document will appear in the drop down list. The UK Association of Parent and Teacher Associations and Church of Ireland governing documents are the only approved governing documents at present (January 2015).
Once all the correct documents and information have been supplied, the Commission aim to take around three to four months to process and assess your application. However this will depend on the complexity of the application and whether we need to contact you for further information.
The Issue a new password button will only work for organisations which have been called forward for registration by the Commission 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.
We have applied for registration but the Commission said we need to amend our purposes as they are not all exclusively charitable. Do we need to change our purposes or can we continue operating without charitable status?
If an organisation has purposes that are exclusively charitable, that is, if they each fit into one or more of the 12 descriptions of charitable purpose and are for the public benefit, then it must apply to register as a charity.
If an organisation applies to register and has purposes that are clearly not charitable, the Commission will give a decision that it is not a charity. This means that the Commission would have no remit to comment further on the organisation’s purposes and it would not be required to change its purposes.
However, where a purpose is likely to be charitable but is unclear or vaguely worded then it will be required to update that purpose to provide clarity to obtain registration. If, before applying for registration to the Commission, an organisation has been deemed to be a charity by HMRC, it cannot change its purposes to make itself not charitable; if it no longer wishes to be a charity it would be required to close the charity, transferring all charitable assets to a charity with the same or similar purposes.