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The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
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How a charity must operate

Before deciding to set up a new charity, it is important that you understand the basic requirements about how a charity must operate.

All charities must operate within the constraints of charity law. This means that, in accordance with the  Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (as amended), to be a charity in Northern Ireland an organisation:

  • must have purposes which fall under one of 12 descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act and
  • the purposes must be for the public benefit.

Further information on public benefit and the twelve charitable purposes, including The public benefit requirement statutory guidance and individuals guidance documents on each of the twelve charitable purposes, is available in The public benefit requirement section of our website.

The public benefit requirement statutory guidance is aimed at promoting awareness and understanding of the public benefit requirement for any organisation wishing to be recognised as a charity in Northern Ireland. It is essential to all charities and should be considered when:

  • starting a charity
  • applying to register for charitable status
  • running your charity
  • reporting annually on your activities in pursuing your purposes.

Under the Charities Act, charity trustees must have regard to the public benefit statutory guidance produced by the Commission. This means charity trustees must be able to show that they are aware of the guidance and that they have taken it into account in making a decision where the guidance is relevant.


Charity trustees are the people who form the governing body or ‘board’ of a charity. They may be called trustees, directors, board members, governors or committee members, but they are the people with ultimate responsibility for directing the business of the charity.

You need to be confident that the people who will run your charity (the proposed trustee body) understand what is expected of them. We therefore advise anyone who is thinking of setting up a new charity to read our Running your charity guidance, which is available in the Charity essentials section of our website.

Registering your charity

If, having considered  the alternatives and requirements, you think that setting up a new charity is the best way to do what you want to achieve, or if you have already set up a charity and want to register it, you should now visit the Registering a new charity section of our website.

It is compulsory for all organisations in Northern Ireland which are, or could be, charitable to apply to the Commission for registration. The Registering a new charity section provides information on your nexct steps, how to prepare for registration and links to our online Registering as a charity in Northern Ireland guidance.