Compulsory charity registration will begin today (Monday 16 December 2013) in Northern Ireland for the first time, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has announced.
The move will see the Commission, the independent regulator of charities, begin the process of registering the thousands of charitable organisations which are currently operating in Northern Ireland.
It also marks the opening of the Commission’s new register of charities, the first official list of registered charities in Northern Ireland – a directory which will continue to grow as registration is rolled out over coming years.
Tom McGrath, Chief Commissioner at the Charity Commission, commented: "The beginning of registration marks a sea change in the regulation of charities in Northern Ireland, a move towards greater transparency, openness and accountability.
"Once the register is complete, anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to go online to check that a charity in Northern Ireland is just that – a bona fide and accountable charity - all at the click of a button.
"However, while today is a celebration, there is a long road ahead as work begins to register the upwards of 7,000 charitable organisations operating in Northern Ireland – a challenge we are ready to meet."
The new register of charities, available on the Commission’s website, opens with the names of the first registered charities in Northern Ireland, which include a housing association, a soccer school for young players, a rural transport organisation, an ethnic community association and a parent teacher support group.
Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, whose responsibilities include charity matters, commented: "I am delighted to see charity registration opening in Northern Ireland, marking a new chapter for charity regulation here.
"For the first time charities here will be required to register, to demonstrate their public benefit and, in due course, to provide annual reports and accounts to the Commission.
"The intention is not to place an unnecessary burden on local charities and I think charities here recognise that. This is a significant milestone towards ensuring proper accountability and increased public confidence in charitable giving.
"I should like to congratulate the 14 organisations which have today become Northern Ireland’s first registered charities, a diverse group which showcases the wide range of organisations which work as charities."
The 14 organisations, now Northern Ireland’s first registered charities, were part of a test group, which used their registration applications to test drive the Commission’s new online registration system and processes.
According to estimates there are between 7,000 and 12,000 charities operating across Northern Ireland, from church groups, schools and universities through to housing associations, support organisations and advice groups, to list but a few.
The Commission’s new, online registration system is now live and the first tranche of charitable organisations has been called forward today by the Commission to apply for registration.
Frances McCandless, Chief Executive at the Commission, added: "I would urge any charities out there, who are perhaps a little daunted by the registration process, not to worry.
"Registration for charities should be a straightforward process as the information required is information that charities should be keeping anyway.
"Given the estimated thousands of charities operating in Northern Ireland, registration will also not happen overnight but is a process we will gradually roll out over coming months and years.
"We will call organisations forward in tranches to apply to register, using our three registration lists as an initial database, and provide all the information, advice and support we can on our website."
You can find out more information on registration, including checking the Commission’s registration lists, online here.
The 14 organisations which have today become Northern Ireland's registered charities are: Fírinne; Strabane Ethnic Community Association; U3A Foyle; Supporting Communities Northern Ireland; Lagan Valley Rural Transport; Ulidia Housing Association; Drumellan Community Association; Advice NI; Clooney Soccer School; Brookeborough Primary School Parent Teacher Support Association; Cancer Lifeline; Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA); The Boys’ Brigade – Northern Ireland District and Groundwork Northern Ireland.