Public benefit requirement: FAQs
Below you will find answers to our frequently asked questions on public benefit.
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.
- Why is public benefit important to my charity?
- How often do we have to satisfy the public benefit requirement?
- What if I don’t have a governing document?
- What if our governing document doesn’t mention public benefit?
- If we fail to meet the public benefit requirement, can our governing document be changed so that we can pass it?
- How does public benefit affect fee paying schools / summer camps and other such groups?
- How is my church supposed to show public benefit? It is open to everyone so is that enough? Why do we have to demonstrate it? Are there likely to be any churches that fail to show public benefit?
- My football club exists primarily for the benefit of the members. How do we show public benefit? Can you give me some examples?
- What is the relevant charity legislation relating to public benefit in Northern Ireland?
The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008, as amended by the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013, sets out the legal requirement that all charities have purposes that are for the public benefit. Therefore in order for charities to be able to apply for registration in Northern Ireland they must satisfy the public benefit requirement.
Once registered, it will be the responsibility of the charity to submit an online annual return in order to demonstrate how they continue to satisfy the public benefit requirement.
The Commission has produced four model governing documents, which are available to download in MS Word format by clicking here. A model governing document is a template which your organisation can use and adapt to your needs by, for example, tailoring some clauses so they are specific to your organisation and adding your organisation’s purposes.
You may also need to seek legal advice to ensure you have the correct governing document to meet your organisation’s needs.
The governing document of a charity does not have to mention public benefit specifically. What is important is that all of the purposes are charitable and that they are for the public benefit.
We do not envisage that organisations will fail to meet the public benefit requirement frequently. The Commission will work with applicants where there are issues with their governing document and discuss options for change on a case by case basis.
Organisations such as fee paying schools, summer camps or other such groups can charge a fee for the services or facilities they offer. They usually do this because:
- the services or facilities they provide are expensive
- they need to charge in order to operate.
A charge can range from something small or one-off such as small entry fees to attend events at a community centre or the annual membership of a scouting group, up to a large annual fee for moving into a residential care home.
If a charity charges high fees, trustees must make some provision for people who cannot afford them in order to be operating for the public benefit. This provision must be related to the charity’s purpose, for example in the case of a school, to advance education, and must be more than ‘tokenistic’.
For further information see the Commission's Running your charity guidance.
All charities in Northern Ireland must, under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008, meet the public benefit requirement.
The ‘advancement of religion’ is one of the 12 charitable purposes. A church may be for the public benefit as it provides a place of worship, or raises awareness and understanding of religious beliefs or carries out missionary or outreach work.
The Commission recognises that there may be the potential for a church to fail to demonstrate public benefit, however, evidence from other jurisdictions within the UK would indicate that such cases are isolated. Churches, like all other organisations, will be looked at on a case by case basis.
Each application will be reviewed on a case by case basis, so it is difficult to address individual cases. All organisations with charitable purposes, which include amateur sport, must read our The public benefit requirement statutory guidance.
Some sports organisations may already be registered as a (Community Amateur Sports Club) CASC, and may need to consider their status. An organisation already registered as a CASC cannot also register as a charity.
The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 is the main piece of legislation establishing the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, setting out its functions and powers. However section 3 ‘The public benefit requirement’ was amended by the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.
The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 is a much shorter Act and was primarily brought in to replace the drafting on public benefit in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.