In order to work with and regulate charities in Northern Ireland, the Commission first had to categorise which organisations were charities. Until the Commission began charity registration in Northern Ireland in December 2013, this was technically not possible.
In the interim period, the law in Northern Ireland deemed charities to be organisations granted charitable tax exemptions through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The most up to date "deemed list" of Northern Ireland charities, created on 19 August 2013, coversed over 7,000 charities.
As part of our commitment to openness and transparency, the name of each "deemed" charity is published on our website. This list, however, presented only a partial picture of the true landscape - many charities do not apply for charitable tax exemption and therefore do not appear on the list, while some charities on the list may have merged or closed, despite remaining registered with HMRC for tax exemptions and Gift Aid.
In addition to creating the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008, provides an explanation of what a charity is, describes charitable purpose and sets out the Commission’s task of establishing a compulsory register of all charities operating in Northern Ireland
The Commission began compulsory registration on Monday 16 December 2013. It is important to note that registration will not happen overnight. It is estimated that there are between 7,000 to 12,000 charities in Northern Ireland, so registration will be a managed process. This will provide Northern Ireland with a list of registered charities for the first time.
The register will be a publically available list of organisations confirmed by the Commission’s public benefit test to operate with charitable status. These organisations will be given a unique Northern Ireland Charity (NIC) registration number and must submit to annual inspections of their governance and finances.
From this time onwards, any organisation wishing to be recognised as a charity in Northern Ireland, will have to register with the Commission before approaching HMRC for tax purposes. If the Commission refuses registration then HMRC will not accept an application from that organisation. The Commission has an appeals process in place should an application for registration be unsuccessful.