The Charities Act
The Charities Act, enacted in February, 2009, represented a very significant milestone for community and voluntary activity in Ireland.
The purpose of the Act is to reform the law relating to charities in order to ensure greater accountability and to protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud and to enhance public trust and confidence in charities and increase transparency in the sector.
Key aspects of the Act provide for:
A definition of charitable purposes for the first time in primary legislation.
The creation of the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) to secure compliance by charities with their legal obligations and also to encourage better administration of charities. The CRA is an independent statutory agency under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality. Its first Board was appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Establishment of a Register of Charities in which all charities operating in the State must be registered.
The submission of annual activity reports by charities to the new CRA.
Updating the law relating to fund-raising, particularly in relation to collections by way of direct debits and similar non-cash methods.
The creation of a Charity Appeals Tribunal.
The provision of consultative panels to assist the Authority in its work and to ensure effective consultation with stakeholders.
The Act also gives the CRA powers to make regulations in relation to charitable fundraising. The CRA has convened a consultative panel to review current arrangements and practices in the sector.
The Act can be downloaded here: Charities Act 2009.
A Definition of Charities
Organisations that have exclusively charitable purposes and provide public benefit will be eligible for inclusion in the Register of Charities and must apply for registration with the CRA.
Charitable purposes defined in the Act are:
The prevention or relief of poverty or economic hardship
The advancement of education
The advancement of religion; or
Any other purpose that is of benefit to the community, which is specifically broken down in the Act to include:
The advancement of community welfare including the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health or disability
The advancement of community development, including urban or rural regeneration
The promotion of civic responsibility or voluntary work
The promotion of health including the prevention or relief of sickness, disease or human suffering
The advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation
The promotion of religious or racial harmony and harmonious community relations
The protection of the natural environment
The advancement of environmental sustainability
The advancement of the efficient and effective use of the property of charitable organisations
The prevention or relief of suffering of animals
The advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or sciences; and
The integration of those who are disadvantaged, and the promotion of their full participation in society.
The Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) was established on 16 October 2014 to secure compliance by charities with their legal obligations and also to encourage improvements in the administration of charities.
The CRA maintains an online, publicly accessible Register of Charities
All charitable organisations are obliged to ensure that the particulars relating to them are correctly entered in the register.
All charities are obliged to state in their public literature that they are a registered charity, and to state their unique charity registration number
It is an offence for a body not on the register to claim that it is a registered charity or to operate or fundraise as a registered charity.
A Charity Appeals Tribunal will be established to which organisations can appeal certain decisions that the CRA may make in relation to them.
Consultative panels may be established by the CRA to assist it in its work and to ensure effective consultation with stakeholders.
All charities are required to keep proper books of account.
The CRA will obtain from the Companies Registration Office Annual Returns made by charities that are companies (to minimise the demands made by dual reporting).
Charities that are not companies will face the following financial-reporting requirements:
Organisations with income above €100k per annum are required to submit audited accounts to the CRA - see here for more information
Charities with income less than this threshold may submit examined accounts (less demanding and expensive to produce).
Charities with income less than €10,000 will be exempted from filing annual accounts (they will still however have to submit their Annual Activity Report) unless, of course, they are companies, where the requirements of company law will still apply.
All charities will be required to submit to the CRA annual reports on their charitable activities during the year. You can learn more about annual reporting requirements from the CRA website by clicking here.
Both cash and non-cash (i.e. direct debits, standing orders etc) charitable fundraising from the public will require permits from the gardaí, and only registered charities will be able to conduct those types of fundraising.
Sealed collection boxes will be the default requirement for collections in public places and the boxes will have to display the name and charity number of the charity. The CRA has the discretion to make an exception to the sealed collection box rule to facilitate the making of change for token sellers.
Charities that fundraise will be expected to comply with the non-statutory Statement of Fundraising Principles, and will also be expected to comply with specific Codes of Good Practice for Fundraising that will be available following the consultation exercise referenced above.
Political and Lobbying Activities
Charities will be permitted to promote a political cause and to fully engage in lobbying activities if it relates directly to their charitable purpose. Click here to learn more about lobbying regulation of Irish charities.
‘Charity Trustees’ are defined in the Act and are essentially those persons having day to day control of a charitable organisation. Directors of a charity that is a company limited by guarantee will be considered to be the trustees of the charity (there may be other trustees, in addition to the directors).
For charities with ‘management committees’ or ‘core groups’, the members of these groups will be considered to be ‘trustees’ as a result of this Act.
A charity is not, and will not be, permitted to pay trustees for their work in their capacity as a trustee (other than for receipted expenses).
A charity will be permitted to pay a Charity trustee (or persons connected to a trustee) for work which is not related to their role as a trustee.
Charities will be permitted to purchase ‘directors and officers’ insurance to indemnify its trustees for liabilities relating to acts done or omitted by the trustee in good faith and in performance of their functions as a charity trustee.
Please click here for more guidance on Forming Your Charity