If you are a journalist and interested in the work of the Charity Commission, the following information may be of use to you. You can also contact Communications Officer Shirley Kernan on 028 3832 0169 or 07827338978 if you would like to discuss any issue in relation to the Commission.
All our recent press releases and media statements are available online here.
“The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland. The Commission is responsible for ensuring Northern Ireland has a dynamic and well governed charities sector, in which the public can have confidence.”
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was established in March 2009 as a non-Departmental Public Body supported by the Department for Social Development (DSD), and was constituted by the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
The objective of the new regulator is to assure the public that charities operating in Northern Ireland can demonstrate their contribution to society, and that they are operating within the law.
The aims of the Charity Commission
The charitable sector in Northern Ireland is well established, diverse and vibrant. There are a broad range of charities doing good work on the ground here. These charities vary tremendously in size, remit and activities.
Before the establishment of the Charity Commission the charities sector was administered by DSD. There was no form of local charity regulation and only limited provision for enforcement of legal obligations and good governance.
The only type of formal registration was with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) which can recognise organisations as charities for tax purposes and provide them with a unique HMRC reference number. If a charity does not wish to be registered for tax purposes they are under no obligation to apply to HMRC.
By providing a framework and statutory obligation for registration and regulation, the Charity Commission brings governance of the charitable sector in Northern Ireland into line with similar standards across other UK regions.
The Commission will also play a crucial role in the future development of charities. Regulation will assist them in meeting the expectations, challenges and obligations associated with the contemporary drive for efficiency, efficacy and good governance in the sector.
The current standing of the Commission - a snapshot in time
The Commisison began compulsory registration of all charities operating in Northern Ireland in Deecember 2013.
It is important to note that registration will not happen overnight. It is estimated that there are between 7,000 and 12,000 charities in Northern Ireland, so this will be a managed process, providing Northern Ireland with a list of registered charities for the first time.
Despite its importance, registration is only one aspect of the work of the Commission. Investigatory powers, for example, were commenced in February 2011. The Commission can therefore intervene and take action when things have gone wrong within a charity. A range of other powers to regulate charities here are also in operation, some of which are touched upon below.
Key areas of work
Investigations: Intervening when things have gone wrong within a charity
Charities touch some of the most important aspects of our lives and people care deeply about the causes that charities are involved with. Unfortunately however things can go wrong within a charity and instances of fraud and mismanagement do occur.
Intervening to protect charities when there is serious risk of harm or abuse is therefore an important feature of regulation. Harm can happen in relation to the charity itself, to its assets, its beneficiaries or its reputation.
The Charity Commission will intervene if that course of action is deemed to be evidence-based and proportionate. The decision whether or not to intervene in the affairs of a charity will follow an individual and specific assessment with every case, taking account of the risk involved and the capacity of the charity to comply.
At present, our powers extend to the following organisations.
- Under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008: organisations that have registered with the Commission as charities.
- Under transitional orders: organisations which had been granted charitable tax status by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by 19 August 2013. These organisations number over 7,000 and are listed on what is called the "deemed list", which is published on our website here.
The number of charities which the Commission can investigate will continue to increase as more charities are registered by the the Commission following the beginning of registration on 16 December 2013. This means that ultimately the Commission will have the authority to investigate complaints or allegations of mismanagement within any charity operating in Northern Ireland.
Other live powers
The Charity Commission can also:
• require a charity to change its name, for example where it is offensive or misleading
• give specific directions to protect a charity such as to suspend or remove a trustee
• authorise special payments, for example facilitating the payment of creditors when a charity is wound up
• give its opinion or advice to a charity trustee on the performance of their duties, if the trustee asks for that opinion or advice.
The future vision of the Commission
In the longer term, and with full powers commenced, the Commission will regulate all registered charities through the inspection of annual governance reports and financial returns. This will allow better supervision, regulation and support of charities.
As powers are commenced, the Charity Commission will become a guarantor of the concept of charity, which has for centuries held a privileged place in our society.