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The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
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Frequently raised topics

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland, 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 Communities (DfC) and established under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 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.

You can find answers to some of the frequently raised topics we receive below:

  1. What does charity regulation mean?
  2. What investigatory powers does the Commission have?
  3. What other powers do the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland have?
  4. Why do we need charity registration?
  5. Can someone from the Commission come to speak to my organisation about charity regulation?
  6. Where can I find help and advice on funding opportunities for charities including street collection permits?

Answers

1. What does charity regulation mean?

As the regulator of charities operating in Northern Ireland, the 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.

The Commission was established under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008. However, 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 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.

2. What investigatory powers does the Commission have?

The 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 and assets.

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 an 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.

For more information on the types of concerns the Commission can deal with or our processes for receiving, assessing and investigating concerns please visit the Concerns about charities section of our website.


3. 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 matters 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:

  • is the same as or, in the opinion of the Commission, too like that of another charity
  • is likely to mislead the public as to the nature of the charity
  • is likely to give the impression that the charity is connected in some way with a government department, council, body or individual, when it is not
  • is offensive.

->A summary of the Commission's other powers include the power:

  • to call for documents and search records
  • to compel the disclosure of information
  • to act to protect a charity by, for example, suspending or removing 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.

4. 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  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.

For more information on charity registration, including the Commission's range of registration support and guidance visit our Registration section.

5. 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.

6. Where can I get help and advice on other issues including funding opportunities for charities and how to obtain street collection permits?

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 (Northern Ireland) 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 Commission will produces its own guidance to help charities in these and other areas. Until then useful information may be available from the following organisations:

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

The Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW)
www.charity-commission.gov.uk (external Link)