Introduction to charity regulation in Northern Ireland

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the independent regulator of charities in Northern Ireland. Information on the Commission's investigatory powers is available using the FAQs below.

Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. Which charitable organisations can the Commission investigate?
  2. Why do these powers not apply to all charitable organisations?
  3. When should I report a concern to the Commission?
  4. When doesn't the Commission get involved?
  5. How do I raise a concern about a charitable organisation?
  6. What steps can the Commission take once a concern has been raised?
  7. Why do I need to make my complaint in writing?
  8. Why has the Commission published details of my organisation on its website?
  9. Why does an organisation appear more than once on this list?

1.  Which charitable organisations can the Commission investigate?

In February 2011, the Commission gained powers to investigate charities within Northern Ireland where a risk exists to its assets or beneficiaries. This allowed us to identify and investigate apparent misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of charities and take steps to protect charitable assets for the first time.

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.

The number of charities which the Commission can investigate will continue to increase as more charities are registered by the Coimmission following the beginning of charity 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.

2.  Why do these powers not apply to all charitable organisations?

It is important to note that registration will not happen. According to estimates there are between 7,000 and 12,000 charities operating in Northern Ireland so registration will be a managed process, expected to take three to four years to complete.

The transitional measures allow the Commission to begin regulation and investigations of charitable organisations registered for tax purposes with HMRC, while registration of all charities is rolled out across Northern Ireland.

3. When should I report a concern to the Commission?

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland needs to know where there is a serious risk of significant harm to or abuse of a charity, its assets, beneficiaries or reputation. The issues we consider serious are:

  • significant financial loss to the charity;
  • serious harm to beneficiaries and, in particular, vulnerable beneficiaries;
  • threats to national security, particularly terrorism;
  • criminality within or involving a charity;
  • sham charities set up for an illegal or improper purpose;
  • charities deliberately being used for significant private advantage;
  • where a charity's independence is seriously called into question;
  • serious non-compliance in a charity that damages or has the potential to damage its reputation and/or the reputation of charities generally; and
  • serious non-compliance in a charity which, left unchecked, could damage public trust and confidence in the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland as an effective regulator.

4. When doesn't the Commission get involved?

It is not appropriate for us to be involved in many of the concerns we may receive, which should be raised directly with the charitable organisation or with another body. The most common of these are:

  • Internal disagreements and disputes;
  • Services provided by the charity;
  • Fundraising methods;
  • Employment and unfair dismissal;
  • Disagreements with decisions;
  • Contracts and legal action against the charity;
  • Concerns about policies or actions taken by the trustees which are within their powers

When we receive a concern that does not meet our criteria, we will acknowledge your concern and keep a record, but will not take any further action. Further information and guidance on where to seek advice on these issues is available on our website.

5. How do I raise a concern about a charitable organisation?

If you wish to raise a concern about a charitable organisation on our list you must complete a 'Concerns Form' and return it to the Commission.

Forms are available for download via the Commission website, hard copies are available upon request. Forms should be returned to the Commission by emailing us CCNI or in writing to:

Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
257 Lough Road
Lurgan
Craigavon
BT66 6NQ 

Once we have received your form we will acknowledge your concern, assess the seriousness and risk involved, and inform you if any further action will be taken.

6.  What steps can the Commission take once a concern has been raised?

When we receive a concern we will first assess it and, depending on the seriousness and risk involved, determine what the best route to rectify the issue is. There are three routes which we can take:

a. Self regulation.

If we assess that a concern is best addressed by the charity's own provisions we may offer guidance to assist the charity to resolve an issue, for example where a complainant simply disagrees with a decision a charity has taken within the law. Similarly, guidance will be offered if a concern relates to poor service from a charity where there is no general risk to its services, its clients or its resources.

b. Regulatory compliance case

If a concern raises clear issues to be addressed but they are not sufficiently serious to warrant a statutory Inquiry, and the trustees are willing to work with us to find solutions, we will begin a Regulatory Compliance Case.

c. Statutory inquiries

If a concern is assessed as high risk, involving issues of possible criminality, danger to vulnerable beneficiaries or significant losses of assets, we will begin a Statutory Inquiry. A Statutory Inquiry allows us to use protective powers to:

  • remove or suspend trustees, charity trustee's officers, agents or employees.
  • appoint an interim manager or additional trustees,
  • or freeze assets.

We envisage that the majority of concerns will be addressed through self regulation or under the Commission's Regulatory Powers and that it will be a rarity that a Statutory Inquiry into the apparent misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of charity will be required.

7.   Why do I need to make my complaint in writing?

We ask you to submit your concern in writing in order to provide the necessary details to substantiate that the concern raised is valid, and evidence is available. We may also need to contact you in order to gather further information to assess the seriousness of your concern.

8.   Why has the Commission published details of my organisation on its website?

The Commisison has published the names of all organisations in Northern Ireland to whom these powers apply.

The deemed  list provides details of all organisation granted charitable tax exemption by HMRC as of the 19 August 2013. Legislation was passed to enable the sharing of this information. All details are correct as provided to the Commission by HMRC. If any individual organisation has a concern or wishes to amend or correct details on this list they should contact HMRC, Charity Helpline 0845 3020203 open 8am -  5pm Monday to Friday.

The Chariites Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 states that the Chairty Commisison for Northern Ireland must keep a publicly accessible register of charities in Northern Ireland. The Commission's online Register of charities is 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.

9.  Why does an organisation appear more than once on the deemed list?

This list is based on tax related information provided by HMRC. Some organisations may have registered several individual tax entities with HMRC under the same organisational name. If an organisation has any concerns or wish to amend the information held on this list they should contact HMRC, Charity Helpline 0845 3020203 open 8am - 5pm Monday to Friday.

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