Sometimes charities need to adapt the way they operate to reflect changes in society or the context in which they work.
Some charities may have the power in their governing document to make changes, while others may be able to use specific provisions set out in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (as amended). For example:
- all charitable companies can amend their articles of association, however, there are certain regulated alterations which require our approval. Further information can be found in our guidance Consents for charitable companies.
- some unincorporated charities may change their governing document even if there is no power to do so in their governing document by using specific provisions in the Charities Act. Further information can be found in our guidance New powers for unincorporated organisations.
Otherwise, you will need to apply to the Commission to request a scheme. A scheme is a legal document, made by the Commission, which changes, replaces or extends the trusts of a charity.
An example of when a scheme would have to be made is when there is a gift to an educational society which no longer exists. Using a scheme, the Commission may direct that the fund is used to further education in another way, for example, in the purchase of prizes or to further research.
Under section 26 of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (as amended), the Commission can make a scheme to change the purposes of a charity where the current purposes:
- can no longer be carried out, or not in the way laid down in the governing document
- have been fulfilled or adequately provided for in other ways, such as out of public funds
- do not provide a use for all of the charity's income or property
- use outdated definitions of areas, places or classes of people
- have ceased to be charitable in law
- have stopped being a useful way of using the funds or property, such as providing for very small payments or gifts of food or fuel to beneficiaries
- where two or more charities with similar purposes want to merge but do not have the legal power to do so.
Where the Commission applies property for alternative purposes, it must apply the legal doctrine of cy-près as well as ensure that the alternative takes account of the ‘spirit’ of the existing purposes and of current social and economic circumstances.
For further information, or if you have any questions, please read our guidance for charity trustees on Requesting a scheme and our scheme FAQs, which are available below. An application form to apply to the Commission to make a scheme to change, replace or extend the trusts or purposes of a charity is also available below.