Worthingtons Solicitors

Thousands of NI Charities told registrations deemed unlawful after Court Ruling

The February 2020 Court of Appeal ruling in the case of McKee & Others v Charity Commission for Northern Ireland  held that the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (the “Commission”) does not have the power to delegate its decision-making processes to staff acting alone.

The Commission published guidance on its website on 29 June 2020 which confirmed that “If your charity was registered prior to the end of May 2019, the decision was made by a member of staff and not a panel of Commissioners and is therefore considered to be void at this time.”

The Commission emphasised that affected charities can “continue to operate as previously without any disruption to their operations” and that if an organisation is a charity in law as outlined in its governing documents, then the lack of registration will not prevent them from operating as such.

Many commentators in the sector are seeking clarity on how this affects charities moving forward. A number of questions have been raised about access to funding without a registered charity number and dealing with charity property. We have summarised the FAQs below:

Do I need to re-register my charity?

No, affected charities do not have to take any action at this time.

What are the funding implications?

The Commission is contacting funders and support bodies to clarify that the affected organisations are still charities in law. However, the Commission cannot direct such bodies on their decision-making processes. If funding is rejected due to the judgement, charities should contact the Commission.

Charities are also still entitled to use their charity number to apply for funding.

Will the register of charities be deleted?

No, but an explanatory note will be added to clarify where an assessment has been affected by the judgement. The affected charities will remain on the Commission’s website for transparency and accountability. 

Are charities still being registered?

Yes, albeit with delays. If a charity has been contacted to register, they must proceed as normal. The Commission has a target to complete 60% of all registrations within 7 months of receipt of a completed application.

Do charities need to comply with annual reporting?

There is no legal requirement for charities registered before the end of May 2019 to file annual reporting information with the Commission at this time, however it is considered best practice to do so. If registered after May 2019 then you need to comply with annual reporting as usual.

What is the future of charity regulation?

Charities can expect to see a reduction in the volume and punctuality of decisions made due to the size of the Board and the extent of work required. The Commission has had to adjust its procedures and is currently working with the Department for Communities to reach a permanent solution and will provide more information as soon as possible.

Charities that are unclear or experiencing difficulties are urged to contact the Charities team at Worthingtons Solicitors who are available to assist with legal advice and queries. (Telephone number: 028 9043 4015 or Email: [email protected])

For expert legal advice

Call 028 9043 4015 or Contact us