Legal Update: Charities bill reaches grand committee stage

Plus: NI decision on housing society; and tribunal rules on timeframes

Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland
Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland

The line-by-line analysis of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill in the grand committee stage of the House of Lords has finished with only a single, minor technical amendment about the bill's commencement. But the government has since introduced amendments that will require charities with incomes of more than £1m a year to include statements in their annual reports on various aspects of their fundraising activities, and will require clauses in contracts between charities and fundraising agencies to state how vulnerable donors will be protected from coming under undue pressure.

Charitable purposes

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has held that wording in a housing society's objects permitting it to "do all things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment" of those objects (which were in themselves charitable) did not permit it to undertake activity that was inconsistent with its charitable purposes. It was therefore established for exclusively charitable purposes.

The decision confirms that of the Northern Ireland High Court, which overturned a decision of the Charity Tribunal of Northern Ireland. The outcome opens the way for the Charity Commission of Northern Ireland to open an inquiry into the governance of the Bangor Provident Trust Ltd. While this decision would not bind the courts in England and Wales, it is an interesting and reassuring decision of persuasive value on the effect of wording that features in the constitutions of numerous charities.

Tribunal timeframes

The First-tier Tribunal (Charity) has held that the period of time within which an appeal against a decision of the Charity Commission needs to be made can be seen to start after the Charity Commission sends the decision by email. The tribunal ruled that the commission is not required to serve the decision on the charity trustees in a more formal way, such as in the post. This arose from the appeal by the Steadfast Trust against its removal from the Charity Commission register. Nonetheless, the tribunal has allowed the appeal even though it was out of time.

Press regulation

The same tribunal has also allowed an appeal by the Independent Press Regulation Trust against a Charity Commission decision to refuse to register it as a charity. This decision recognises, for the first time, the promotion of high standards of ethical conduct and best practice in journalism and the editing and publication of news in print and other media as a charitable purpose.

BIS consultation

Charities registered at Companies House will be affected by regulations to implement the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill's requirement for firms to hold a register of people with significant control and provide it to Companies House. A consultation closes on 17 July.

This column is written by Adrian Pashley, charities editor at Thomson Reuters, Practical Law, on behalf of the Charity Law Association

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