The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has launched a consultation on its new public benefit and charity registration guidance.
From late 2013 it will become compulsory for all charities in Northern Ireland to register with the commission. To register, charities must show that they have exclusively charitable purposes that benefit the public.
The statutory guidance on public benefit sets out what public benefit is and what charities need to know to ensure they are meeting the requirements. The commission has issued supporting documents for each of the 12 charitable purposes, including religion, education and animal welfare.
The guidance on registering as a charity in Northern Ireland includes requirements for registration and its potential benefits.
The commission said that charities would not need to do anything to prepare for registration at this point. Once registration begins, those registered with HM Revenue & Customs will be asked by the commission to register.
Any charitable organisations not registered with HMRC will be asked to contact the commission so that they can be placed on a list and invited to register. In addition, newly established charities being set up must apply to the commission to register.
Denise Copeland, governance and charity advice manager at the Northern Ireland voluntary sector umbrella body Nicva, said she welcomed the public benefit and charity registration guidance.
"It’s going to help charities understand what the commission means by public benefit," she said. "The guidance for registration is very helpful to charities as well. We’ve waited for several years for registration to be established. The guidance will allay any fears that charities might have."
Copeland said she hoped the launch of the guidance would alert charities in Northern Ireland to the requirement for them to register with the commission. "There was a fear that charities that had already registered with HMRC felt they wouldn’t need to register with the commission," she said.
The commission’s consultation, which opened on 4 February, will close on 6 May.