Call for guide to variations in charity law

Differences in how public benefit rules are enforced across countries of the UK lead to call from Charity Law Association

The authorities should publish guidance summarising the differences in charity law across the British Isles, according to some charity lawyers.

The Charity Law Association held a symposium in November on the different systems of law and regulation in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. The transcript was released last week.

Some of those attending, who included charity lawyers, senior officials from the Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, representatives of the UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments and academics, said comparative guidance should be published to explain how and where the law differed and how charities should respond.

It was suggested that HM Revenue & Customs could compile the guidance because it assessed the charitable status of organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland for tax purposes, but used the English definition of charity.

One major area of divergence is the enforcement of public benefit rules. Ann Phillips, deputy chair of the association, pointed out the different approaches of the Charity Commission and the OSCR. In cases where charities were not delivering public benefit, she said, the commission was expected to open a dialogue to encourage compliance and, as a last resort, could remove trustees or reassign property. In Scotland, Phillips said, the OSCR could ask charities that failed the 'charity test' to take action and, if they did not, had to remove them from the register.

The OSCR has designated the Charity Commission as 'lead regulator' in cross-border cases. Delegates suggested the commission should "ratchet up" its regulatory powers in cross-border cases to make charities comply.

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