Introduction to the regulation of charities in Northern Ireland

The department is responsible for the legal framework for charities in Northern Ireland. We are currently taking forward a programme of legislation to give full effect to the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (the 2008 Act). We are also responsible for overseeing the work of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) which is one of the Department’s Non-Departmental Public Bodies.

The purpose of the 2008 Act

The 2008 Act creates a new regulatory framework for charities, the main elements being the establishment of a local regulator, a register of charities and a Charity Tribunal.

The Act modernises charity law in Northern Ireland and sets out the legal framework within which charities and the CCNI must operate. This framework is broadly in line with that for England and Wales, and Scotland. A similar framework operates in the Republic of Ireland.

Implementation of the 2008 Act

The 2008 Act is being implemented in stages and confers powers on the CCNI in a manageable way. The legislation made to date is shown at the end of this section.

The Charities (Accounts and Reports) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015

The Department consulted on the The Charities (Accounts and Reports) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 from 1 September 2015 to 30 October 2015, and the Department’s response to the consultation has now been published. The associated Explanatory Memorandum which includes the Regulatory Impact Assessment can be viewed on the legislation.gov.uk website

The Charities (Accounts and Reports) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 will come into operation on 1 January 2016, and for the first time it will be a legal requirement for all charities to file their annual accounts with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.  The Regulations provide for:

  • the preparation and scrutiny of accounts prepared by charities and the preparation of annual reports by charities
  • the preparation and scrutiny of group accounts and the preparation of group annual reports by parent charities.

The Regulations will only apply to charities in Northern Ireland once they have registered with the Charity Commission and will apply to financial years starting on or after 1 January 2016.

The Charities Act 2008 (Substitution of Sums) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015

At the time of consultation on the Regulations, the Department also consulted on charities’ accounting and audit thresholds, and has subsequently made the Charities Act 2008 (Substitution of Sums) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 which will also come into operation on 1 January 2016.  This Order increases the threshold at which accruals accounts must be provided and examined by a qualified person from £100,000 to £250,000.  You can read the associated Explanatory Memorandum which includes the Regulatory Impact Assessment on the legislation.gov.uk website.

Public benefit requirement

The Department’s implementation plan for the 2008 Act was suspended in June 2010 when a technical difficulty with the “public benefit” test was identified and this delayed the registration of charities. The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 resolved the public benefit issue by replacing section 3 of the 2008 Act.

Registration of charities

The CCNI commenced the process of registration on 16 December 2013. Every charity in Northern Ireland must apply to the Commission for registration when called forward to do so. Read the CCNI guidance on registering a charity on their website.

Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act 1885

The 1885 Act put in place a framework to establish charities for primarily, but not exclusively, educational purposes by means of educational endowment schemes made by the Lord Lieutenant in Council. Section 4 of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 came into operation on 1 June 2015 and transferred the powers to make an amending scheme, or an amending and consolidating scheme to the Charity Commission. This means that from this date where an 'educational endowment charity’ requires a change to its original scheme, they must make an application to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Applications made before 1 June 2015 will continue to be dealt with by the Department.

Remaining provisions of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 1964

The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 still applies, however provisions in that Act will gradually be repealed as the 2008 Act is incrementally implemented.

Details of the Department’s current responsibilities under the 1964 Act include:

  • disposal of charitable property
  • appointment of new trustees
  • acceptance of charity property by the Department
  • incorporation schemes for charity trustees
  • common investment schemes

Contact

If you have any queries please contact the Charities Team.

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