The Association of Charitable Organisations, the umbrella body for benevolent funds, has been denied permission to play a full role in the charity tribunal’s hearing on whether benevolent funds provide a public benefit.
The ACO, which is to change its name from the Association of Charity Officers in September, applied to take part in the hearing along with several individual associations but has been told by Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal, that only bodies "directly affected" could become formal parties to the case.
Charities including the Professional Footballers' Association Benevolent Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Benevolent Fund and the British Airways Welfare and Benevolent Fund have already been appointed as parties to the case, which is due to take place in November.
The hearing was initiated after Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General, submitted a reference to the tribunal asking it to clarify whether a benevolent fund that benefits only groups of people tied to an individual person, company or association could meet the charitable requirement of providing a public benefit.
McKenna said the ACO, which represents 150 benevolent funds, could not be joined as a party because the rules do not permit organisations that have a purely representational interest to take full part in such hearings.
It means the ACO can make oral or written representations to the four-day hearing, but will not have the right to appeal the decision, or to be considered a party in the reference.
Dominic Fox, chief executive of the ACO, said: "We are disappointed that the judge has not seen the advantage of funds working together through their umbrella body to present a case to the tribunal.
"Our approach is to save time and money for our members. The alternative would result in the unnecessary duplication of arguments, use up the limited time available for the hearing and incur extra costs."
McKenna said parliament might have to reconsider the rules preventing representational bodies such as the ACO being formally joined as parties, given the assistance and expertise umbrella bodies could bring to such proceedings.
ACO members, which include the Charity Employees Benevolent Fund, will now have to decide whether to apply individually to be joined parties to the case.