Charity Commission updates guidance on public benefit

The commission has launched a three-month consultation on the amended version

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

Charities will need to demonstrate that they provide public benefit through their stated purposes rather than their activities, according to revised guidelines from the Charity Commission.

The commission, which today launched a three-month consultation on the amended public benefit guidance, now says that it is only necessary for an organisation to have charitable purposes to be identified as a charity.

The guidance has been revised to clarify what the public benefit requirement means and what trustees need to know to ensure they are meeting the requirement. The information is available on the commission’s website.

The revision has been made in the light of a judgement by the Upper Tribunal, which ruled last year that key sections of the commission’s guidance on public benefit by fee-charging charities, such as independent schools, was wrong.

As part of the consultation, the Charity Commission says it is keen to get feedback from trustees, who can submit views and comments on a live blog, as well as through formal responses.

Tom Murdoch, an associate at Stone King Solicitors' charity and education team, said the revised guidance meant the commission’s previous stance, that it could gauge a charity’s public benefit through its activities, had been abandoned.

He said: "I think this is a welcome clarification that charity trustees have the duty to decide what level of public benefit the charity can offer in its individual circumstances."

Murdoch said that he welcomed the commission’s revised guidance, but was concerned that there would still be uncertainty in the minds of some charity trustees as to the specific level of public benefit their organisation would need to offer.

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, said in a statement that public benefit was a "defining characteristic" of charitable organisations. She said the commission had gone to great lengths to ensure guidance accurately reflected the law.

"We have worked hard to write guidance that accurately reflects the law but is accessible for a charity trustee who just wants to know what to think about when making decisions that might affect their charity’s public benefit," she said.

"We hope the online format will make this easier. We invite comments on both the form and content of the revised guidance and hope that the consultation blog will enable real-time responses to views expressed."

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