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Charity Community

Registering a charity: What we need from your application

Author: Daniel Warner, Case Manager, Registration Division, Charity Commission

Published: 03 Aug 2023

One of the main challenges faced by the Registration Division is collecting enough information to correctly ascertain whether an organisation is a charity or not. A lack of information can lead to longer handling and turnaround times and increases the likelihood of an application being returned as incomplete. In this article, we hope to set out some of the expectations and minimum standards that the Commission requires from applicants during the registration process.

Trustee duties when registering a charity

If an application is to be successful, an applicant must provide sufficient information to clearly demonstrate that the organisation:

  • Is established for an exclusively charitable purpose(s); and
  • Is carrying out that exclusively charitable purpose(s) for the public benefit.

Crucially, Section 35 of the Charities Act 2011 places the onus upon trustees, stating that they must supply the Commission with the documents and information required for the purposes of the registration application.

The application process

Our online application form has been designed to assist the trustees in fulfilling their responsibility as much as possible, inviting them (often through their nominated representative) to provide as much relevant information as possible via a series of questions where applicants will be invited to select categories they feel best describe their charity and its purposes.

For us to fully consider and effectively process an application, we strongly recommend that applicants provide detailed responses to these questions. This is because the Commission cannot register an organisation when the nature and scope of its purpose and how that purpose will be carried out for the public benefit is unclear, imprecise or uncertain.

Our role in the Registration Division is that of a registrar and regulator. Our role is clearly defined in law. We cannot act as an advisory service that helps organisations to become charities as this goes beyond our statutory capacity, although our website contains guidance to assist those who are navigating this process. This was covered in our last article. As a result, although an organisation does not necessarily have to be up and running to demonstrate that it has charitable purposes for the public benefit, clear planning and evidence may be necessary to ensure the application’s success.

What counts as a “sufficient” amount of information varies across application types – for example, we may need less information to consider a local parent teacher association or village hall than we would to consider an international human rights organisation or an entity providing accommodation to highly vulnerable beneficiaries. In all cases, applicants are welcome to provide supplementary documentation to help us in our decision, including business planning, accounts or evidence of previous activities and services. However, please ensure that relevant sections of such supporting materials are clearly highlighted to aid us in our review.

On average, we find that we are only able to progress 46% of applications to registration. To help you, we have outlined some top tips on what we need from your application.

Tips to ensure a successful outcome

  • Establish that the applicant organisation is eligible for registration. Does it fall within our jurisdiction of England and Wales? Is it excepted or exempt? Does it meet the minimum annual income threshold of £5,000 (for non-CIOs)?
  • Ascertain whether your governing document is suitable for registration as a charity and is the same type as what you declare in the application form. Does it contain the provisions, powers and clauses that we would expect to see in a registered charity? Have you considered adopting one of our model governing documents?
  • Check whether your organisation’s name contains any sensitive words that would require third-party consent. If no consent is provided, we cannot proceed with the application.
  • Provide full and detailed responses to the questions in the application form. This will allow the Commission to build up a better understanding of your organisation and its purpose. This may take more time in the first instance but could lead to a much quicker registration decision.
  • Confirm that the information provided relates to the stated purposes. Where an organisation has multiple purposes, the information provided must cover and demonstrate each individual purpose.
  • Ensure that any information provided is relevant to our consideration of charitable status. Submitting the organisation’s policies in matters such as recruitment, donations or fundraising may be helpful in illustrating how the organisation will operate, but it is unlikely to assist our understanding of what the purpose is or how it would meet the public benefit requirement. Alternatively, a grant making policy or a policy regarding how beneficiaries are selected may be relevant.
  • Where you may be submitting multiple applications to the Commission on behalf of different clients, please tailor your answers to the particular circumstances of each applicant organisation. This extra detail greatly assists us in assessing the application, whereas generic descriptions can make it incredibly difficult for us to ascertain what an organisation’s purpose is or how it would be for the public benefit. We are grateful to the majority of ICAEW members who do provide bespoke answers.

What’s next?

Our next article will focus on the different types of charity structures and governing documents available to trustees when establishing a charity, providing advice on what structure may be right for your organisation.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.