Charitable Status and Charity Registration

In Northern Ireland, a charity is defined as an institution which is established for charitable purposes only and is for the public benefit.

If an organisation is established for one or more of the 12 descriptions of purposes listed below, and is for the public benefit, then it will be required to register with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. 

The 12 descriptions of charitable purposes are: 

  • the prevention or relief of poverty
  • the advancement of education
  • the advancement of religion
  • the advancement of health or the saving of lives
  • the advancement of citizenship or community development
  • the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science
  • the advancement of amateur sport
  • the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity
  • the advancement of environmental protection or improvement
  • the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage
  • the advancement of animal welfare
  • any other purposes includes any purpose recognised as charitable under existing charity law and any purposes which may reasonably be regarded as analogous to the listed purposes above, as well as those by virtue of section one of the Recreational Charities Act (1958).

Up until 2018, HMRC would only accept applications for charitable tax exemptions from registered charities only, however those waiting to be registered with the Commission may now apply as well as registered charities.  This means that all charitable organisations in NI can apply to HMRC to get recognised for tax purposes so that they can claim gift aid.

It is a legal requirement to register with the Commission as the Register of Charities has been established.  Organisations which are currently recognised as charities for tax purposes with HMRC will also have to register with the Commission when called to do so. 

The Commission will consider each organisation on a case by case basis in determining whether or not it is fulfilling the public benefit requirement.  Charity trustees are legally required to have regard to the Commission’s guidance on the public benefit requirement.  This statutory guidance is applicable not only when first applying to register as a charity but also on an on-going basis in running the charity and in reporting annually to the Commission.   

Registering as a charity is also available from the Commission.  Please also see NICVA’s article on Charitable Status

Charity registration timescale

The process of establishing  the Register of Charities is underway.  The Commission is calling forward charities on the 'registration list' in tranches.  It is anticipated that it may take up to four years to register every charitable organisation in Northern Ireland.  

Charitable organisations which are currently recognised as charities by HMRC should be listed on the registration list.   If an organisation has a HMRC letter confirming charitable recognition for tax purposes, and discovers that it is not on the ‘list’, then it needs to get in touch with the Commission to let them know. 

Please see NICVA’s Governance and Charity Advice page for the latest information on new charity regulations.

Relevant legislation:

  1. Charities Act (NI) 2013
  2. Charities Act (NI) 2008
  3. Recreational Charities Act 1958