Charities face public benefit test under new Bill

    An overhaul of 400-year-old charity law will mean that charities
    will have to prove their activities have a public benefit,
    writies Sally Gillen.

    The draft Charities Bill sets out 12 areas under which charities
    can operate but it does not provide a definition of what is meant
    by public benefit.

    They include the advancement of education, religion, health
    citizenship or community development arts and amateur sports.

    Home office minister Fiona Mactaggart said the public benefit
    test would be the “bedrock” of charitable status but
    she added that it would be left to the Charity Commission to decide
    on a case-by-case basis if an organisation’s activities
    fitted that definition.

    Under the Bill, the Charity Commission will have improved
    accountability and a new independent tribunal will be established
    that will deal decisions made by the commission that charities are
    unhappy with.

    Measures also included in the Bill are payment for certain
    services carried out by trustees and a power to allow them to apply
    directly to the commission for relief from personal liability where
    they have made honest mistakes.

    It is hoped that giving improved guidance and advice to trustees
    may help charities recruit the high calibre people needed for the
    job.

    Mactaggart said that some of the UK’s charity laws that
    are 400 years old were in need of “urgent
    modernisation”.

    The National Council For Voluntary Organsations welcomed the
    move. Chief executive Stuart Etherington said: “There is a
    clear and immediate need to reform charity law. The current system
    is complex, outdated and confusing to the public.”

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