Charity registration: FAQs
The following FAQs are aimed at covering common queries in relation to charity registration. It is not an exhaustive list, nor does it provide in-depth advice and support on the various aspects of registration.
Anyone who would like information on registration is encouraged in the first instance to refer to our guidance documents, which are available on our website:
- 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).
- Supporting documents on the 12 charitable purposes.
These documents are available to read or download here. Below you will find answers to our frequently asked questions on charity registration.
If you click on a question in the list below, you will be brought to the answer for that question. Alternatively, you can scroll down to read all of the questions and answers.
- When did registration begin?
- How many charities are there in Northern Ireland?
- How long will it take to register all the charities currently operating here?
- When will my organisation be called forward to apply?
- I would like to apply to register as soon as possible in order to apply for funding – can you fast track my application?
- How much does it cost to apply?
- Who must apply to register as a charity?
- What criteria will I have to meet to register?
- How long will it take to complete the application form?
- Is there anything I need to prepare before I apply?
- What information from my application will be made public on the register of charities?
- Why are you making this information public?
- Why are you asking for bank account information? Will that be available to the public?
- Where can I get help with my application?
- I don’t have a computer or access to the internet – can you send me out a hard copy application form?
- I find online forms daunting - where can I get help?
- I was called forward to apply but I have missed the deadline for applying – what can I do?
- I have lost my registration application password/my password is not working – what can I do?
- 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?
- How long will I have to apply?
- How long will it take for you to process my application?
- How will I know if my application has been successful?
- What if I’m not successful - what should I do next?
- Are there penalties for not applying?
- Will I have to apply every year?
- How do I let the Commission know about changes after registration?
- What do I need to do to incorporate the charity/ what to do if my charity wants to become a company?
- Will registration with the Commission mean automatic charitable tax status with HMRC?
- I have already registered with HMRC, why do I have to register again?
- While I am waiting to register, can I still claim Gift Aid?
- If I am not registered, will I lose my HMRC status?
- I have started a new charity – do I need to register with the Commission before I apply to HMRC for Gift Aid?
- How do I set up a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO)?
The Commission began registration on 16 December 2013 (the date the register of charities was first published). All charities which have been successfully registered by the Commission are listed on this public register of charities, which is available here.
The register of charities provides a comprehensive and publicly accessible list of all charities registered in Northern Ireland, each listed charity having been confirmed by the Commission to exist for exclusively charitable purposes.
The register of charities is a living database, updated with new charities when they register as well as incorporating information such as charity accounts and closures.
It is estimated there are between 11,000 and 16,500 charities currently operating in Northern Ireland, ranging from churches, clubs and drop-in groups to societies and umbrella groups, so registration will be a managed process over coming years.
With between 11,000 and 16,500 charities currently operating in Northern Ireland registration will not happen overnight. Registration will be a managed process, expected to take a number of years to complete, dependent on the resources available to the Commission and the quality and complexity of applications submitted.
The Commission will endeavour to complete the processing of each application it receives within five months of receiving a completed application, including all relevant documentation. Applicants can support the Commission in this process by using the online registration guidance and toolkits to prepare an application and ensure all the relevant information and documentation is provided.
Charities are called forward by the Commission in tranches to apply for registration as the Commission’s resources allow. You can check who is on the Commission’s list and find out more information on how the Commission will manage registration here. If you are not on the combined list please complete an Expression of Intent form to provide your details to the Commission.
If there are special circumstances which mean you would like to request that the Commission call your organisation forward to apply for registration early, you can advise us under the special circumstances section in an Expression of Intent form or contact the Commission by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should tell us why not being a registered charity is causing you to be disadvantaged over and above any other organisations awaiting registration.
There is no fee to apply for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland.
An organisation must apply to register as a charity in Northern Ireland if:
- it is an institution, that is, an organisation that is an independent body, the hallmarks of which include having control and direction over its governance and resources.
- it has exclusively charitable purposes.
- it is governed by the law of Northern Ireland (subject to the control of the Court in Northern Ireland).
Application for registration is compulsory if your organisation is, or could be, charitable. This is irrespective of size, annual income or whether your organisation is registered with HMRC for charitable tax purposes.
As part of the online application form, organisations will be required to demonstrate that their purposes or proposed purposes:
- are exclusively charitable
- fall under one or more of the. list of 12 descriptions of purposes in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
- meet the public benefit requirement, as set out in the statutory guidance published online by the Commission.
Further information on how you can demonstrate that your organisation meets the above criteria is available in our public benefit guidance documents, which are available here.
We estimate that normally it should take no longer than 60 minutes in total to complete the online form, provided you have all the information to hand and have used the supporting guidance to prepare, including our public benefit and purposes toolkit and list of documents.
It is not necessary to complete the whole application form in one sitting. You will be able to save the information you have completed and return to it at a later date. If, however, the information is not accessed after three months any saved information will be lost and you will have to start the application again.
Our website provides advice and guidance on how you can prepare your application in advance, including the information and documentation you will need to have to hand and our public benefit and purposes toolkit. All trustees are expected to sign a trustee declaration and it can be helpful to begin this exercise as soon as you can.
Any information requested in the application which may be made public will be marked with a ‘P’. We do not publish trustee addresses (unless they are the contact for the charity) or dates of birth on the register of charities.
Once a charity is successfully registered with the Commission, the public will be able to view details about the charity on the register of charities. The information which appears on the register is detailed in our Registering as a charity in Northern Ireland guidance. A large number of charities are already registered, you can view the register of charities here.
Information made public on the register of charities will work to increase the transparency and accountability of charities, helping to reaffirm public trust and confidence in Northern Ireland’s charities.
You will be asked to supply your bank account details in your registration application as an important anti-fraud measure. The Commission will store all confidential information, such as your bank account details, safely and securely. Bank account details will not appear on the public register.
The Commission is not able to help individual organisations complete their registration application.
We offer a wide range of registration support and guidance on our website, including an online registration tutorial for the completion of the online application, a public benefit and purposes toolkit, registration workshops for each tranche and guidance documents.
The Commission will also provide signposting to helper groups and other resources which may be available to help with the practical elements, for example your local library may be able to offer access to the internet and scanners. This signposting information is available here.
If you have any problems relating to use of the online system or your password, refer to your invite letter for information or email email@example.com
If you don’t have access to a computer or the internet, we would encourage you to check with other trustees or volunteers who may be able to assist you, or you may wish to use the internet and other facilities, such as scanners and copiers, available at your local library. We provide signposting information to libraries and other helper groups who may be able to provide assistance with this kind of practical help.
We only accept hard copy forms in exceptional circumstances, for example if because of a disability you have no means of accessing our online application system. If you feel that you have circumstances which mean you cannot complete the online application form please contact the Commission on telephone: 028 3832 0220, TextPhone: 3834 7639 or by post at: Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, 257 Lough Road, Lurgan, Craigavon, Northern Ireland BT66 6NQ.
We understand that completing an online application form may be daunting for some organisations, particularly those who are not use to online systems and processes.
While the Commission does not have the resource to provide assistance with individual applications, we have provided a wide range of information on our website to support and guide charities through the online application process. This includes inviting charities to registration workshops, an online tutorial guiding you through the application process and signposting information to libraries and other helper groups who may be able to provide assistance with this kind of practical help.
Please contact the Charity Commission as soon as possible on firstname.lastname@example.org to alert us to what has happened.
Please note that only organisations which have been called forward to apply to register will receive an email containing a password in order to access the online registration system.
Please log in via the Register your charity link on the homepage or the link in the call forward correspondence, with the contact person’s email address as your username. We recommend you copy and paste the password from the email.
The 'Forgotten your password' button and passwords will only work for organisations which have been called forward for registration and have an account set up by the Commission, for the online registration system. If you have not yet been called forward for registration, please do not use the 'Forgotten your 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 ‘Forgotten your password’ button to issue a new password to the email address linked to your account.
For the registration application form, please log in via the Register your charity link on the homepage or the link in the call forward correspondence, with the email address linked to your account as your username. We recommend you copy and paste the password from the email.
Once registered, charities log in to Online Services via the Online services for charities link, or ‘Log in or get a password to Online Services’ link, with your NIC number (digits only) as your username. The password will be issued to the email address supplied for Commission use
Once you are invited forward to apply for charity registration by the Commission, we expect you to apply for registration as soon as possible, and no later than three months from the date on which you are called forward, so the earlier you start to prepare the better.
Charities are called forward by the Commission in tranches to apply for registration. You can check if you are on the Commission’s combined list and find out how the Commission will manage registration on our website.
If there are special circumstances which mean you would like to request that the Commission call your organisation forward to apply for registration early, you can contact the Commission to let us know.
The Commission will endeavour to complete processing of each application it receives within five months of receiving a completed application, including all relevant documentation. Our ability to process applications in this timeframe depends on the quality and complexity of the application. You can support the Commission in this process by using the online registration guidance and toolkits to prepare your application and ensure you provide all the relevant information and documentation at the point of application.
If your application is successful, we will email you to let you know and will then enter your organisation as a charity on the online register of charities, available on our website. We will also issue you with your unique Northern Ireland charity (NIC) number and a welcome pack which will provide information on key areas such as using your charity number, reporting to the Commission, fundraising and where to find further information or guidance to help you manage your charity.
If your application for registration is unsuccessful, your organisation will not be entered onto the register. 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.
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.
No, registration is a one off process. However, you will be required to notify us of any changes to your organisation, for example if your charity makes any changes to its governing document, closes or changes its name, and keep us updated on your activities via the annual reporting regime for registered charities.
If you need to make changes to your trustees, public address or contacts you can do this by logging on to Online services and making the necessary changes yourself.
You will need to notify us of any changes to your governing document, if you close, merge with another organisation or change your name. The forms required to notify us of these changes can be found on our website.
There will be occasions when you need the Commission’s consent to make certain changes to your governing document. Go to the Manage your charity section of the website for information on the application process.
We strongly recommend that you take your own legal advice and consider incorporation carefully.
Please note that when registering this process will establish a new charity which will require a new NIC number.
No. HMRC assess applications for charitable tax status under different legislation, Finance Act 2010.
If you already have charitable tax status before registering with the Commission, you will not need to reapply to HMRC and your HMRC reference number will remain the same.
Holding a 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.
Yes, while you are awaiting registration as a charity with the Commission, it will still be possible to claim Gift Aid if you have 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 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 your organisation fails to make its application for registration within three months from the date at which it is called forward, the Commission will notify HMRC that the organisation has failed to apply and HMRC may withdraw/suspend Gift Aid entitlement until the application for registration with the Commission is submitted.
Given the extended time it will take to build the register of charities in Northern Ireland, the Commission has reviewed its policy regarding organisations wishing to apply to HMRC for charitable tax status, to ensure they are not disadvantaged.
Organisations no longer need to register with the Commission first. The Commission will liaise closely with HMRC to share information on organisations that seek charitable tax status but have not yet registered with the Commission, to ensure they meet their legal obligations to apply for registration when called forward to do so.
If you would like to start a new charity review the Starting a new charity guidance on our website. If you decide a new charity is right, 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.
It is not possible to set up a CIO in Northern Ireland at present as that section of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 is not yet in force.