N Ireland to apply light touch to outsider charities

English, Welsh and Scottish charities working in Northern Ireland will be subject to a special 'light' regulation scheme under plans set out in draft legislation.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Charities Bill says charities registered in other jurisdictions would have to register with the country's proposed Charity Commission, but would not have to be fully registered as charities in Northern Ireland.

The measure differs from the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which requires English charities in Scotland to register as Scottish charities.

Seamus Murray, acting director of the Voluntary and Community Unit at the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland, said this would ensure UK-wide and Irish charities weren't over-burdened with administration.

"The public in Northern Ireland will still be able to access information on charities here," he said. "But the reporting requirement will be different from that for Northern Irish charities."

Murray added that the charities in question were a tiny proportion of those in the province, although they tended to be big players such as Barnardo's and Oxfam.

The bill, which was developed with the Scottish and English regulations in mind, would exempt religious charities from certain provisions. The proposal is inspired by the 'designated religious charities' status in Scotland, under which churches that fulfil certain criteria and have satisfied the regulator they have the right governance procedures in place, benefit from more organisational freedom.

Murray said such churches would first have to register with the commission before being exempted.

A spokesman for the umbrella group Nicva said it supported the bill. "We don't have any major or even medium quibbles with the bill," he said. "The aspects we were concerned about in the draft bill, such as the qualifications required to carry out audits, have been amended, so we're quite happy with it."

The NI Assembly Committee for Social Development has launched a public consultation on the proposed legislation, which will close on 7 February.

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