An Association is the simplest and favourite legal structure, usually chosen by new groups. An association may also be a charity, if Charity Commission for Northern Ireland determines it is charitable.  More on starting a new charity.

Type of Organisation: Association

Legal Status: unincorporated

Governing Document:
constitution or "rules" Please click here for the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland's model governing documents.

Common Examples: community association, local branch, residents group, parent toddler group

Associations are unincorporated, so the organisation does not have any independent existence in law. This means that the Management Committee members are personally responsible for any debts or claims against the organisation that cannot be met out of the organisation's own resources.

Key features

An association has:

  • a set of rules setting out how it has agreed to operate (e.g. constitution) Click links below to view the info sheet;
  • a membership;
  • an agreed purpose for which it is set up to work towards;
  • no separate legal identity;
  • no ownership of property (property must be held by named trustees or custodians); and
  • Management Committee members, who are personally liable for any debts or claims against the organisation that cannot be met out of the organisation's own resources.

When is it appropriate?

An association is generally appropriate when one or more of the following applies:

  • the organisation is relatively small in terms of its income and assets and plans to remain small;
  • the organisation is to be a local branch of a national charity with a standard constitution;
  • it has a membership;
  • the Management Committee is elected or appointed for a fixed period, usually one year;
  • the views of local residents, local councils, and other bodies, need to be represented through membership; and
  • the purposes/objectives of the organisation are to be carried out by members.

Management Committee members of an unincorporated association must be 18 years and older.

More on the advantages & disadvantages of different legal structures

The Commission has also produced new guidance on new Powers for Unincorporated Associations provided by the 2008 Charities Act.

Quick Reference