The Charity Commissioners have been quite public about their detailed and sometime rigorous reviews of registered charities’ compliance with their public benefit tests.

The two key principles of this imperative test being:

support tree1. There must be an identifiable benefit (or benefits)

It must be clear what the benefits are, how they relate to the aims of the organisation and they bust be balanced against any detriment or harm.

2. The benefit must be to the public (or section of the public) 

The beneficiaries must be appropriate to the aims.  If a section of the public is the target, the opportunity to benefit must not be unreasonably restricted by geography or ability to afford fees etc.  People in poverty specifically must not be precluded from the opportunity to benefit and any non-public benefit should be incidental.


The implications of losing charitable status are huge.  Not only would the loss affect public confidence and therefore the ability to raise funds, but H M Revenue & Customs have the right to ‘unwind’ tax exemptions claimed in the past six years which could create liabilities that would simply end the organisation’s ability to continue.

If you would like to see some of the Commission’s “Emerging Findings” reports, take a look at their website.  http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/publicbenefit  You will notice that they seem to be targeting fee charging schools as they are suggesting that offering a few bursaries to good students that can not afford to attend, does not constitute ‘public’ and is not going far enough to remove restrictions, but all charities are susceptible to this review.

Any charity with annual income above £25,000 (effective for accounting periods commencing 1st April 2009) must attach a Trustees’ Report to their financial statements and file these with the Commission with in 10 months of the accounting year end.  For incorporated charities this is in addition to the required Directors report.

This report is in my view, the best defence against a review as it gives the Trustees the chance to explain the activities of the organisation in both financial and non-financial terms as well as stating the aims, objectives and policies of those charged with governance.  It should tell the ‘story’ of the charity for the year giving those who are not trained in business the ability to understand how the charity is performing and the impact it is having on the public.

Much of my time spent working with trustees of charities revolves around this key report, guiding and advising them on structure, essential disclosures and helping them to explain the accounts and performance of their organisation.

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge