A charity tribunal hearing on whether benevolent funds provide sufficient public benefit to qualify for charitable status will be heard in London in November.
The case was initiated after Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General, submitted a reference to the tribunal in January that asked it to rule on whether a benevolent fund was charitable if it only benefited a group of people that was linked to an individual person, company or association. Under the Charities Act 2006, charities must provide a "public benefit".
The tribunal has also announced that the Henry Smith Charity, the BT Benevolent Fund, the Stock Exchange Benevolent Fund and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Benevolent Fund have been made formal parties to the case and the Western Gazette Benevolent Fund has been granted permission to make written representations to the tribunal.
Figures from the Charity Commission, which asked Grieve to refer the issue to the tribunal, show there are 1,368 benevolent charities whose benefits are restricted to members of an organisation. Of them, 1,204 are masonic groups.
If the tribunal rules that these charities do not support a significant enough section of the public to meet the public benefit test set out in the Charities Act 2006, they will have to change their objects in order to support more people, or risk losing their charitable status.
Benevolent funds including the British Airways Welfare and Benevolent Fund and the National Westminster Staff Foundation have already been appointed as formal parties to the case. Others, including the Ambulance Hardship Fund and the United Grand Lodge of England have been permitted to make written representations.
A letter to the tribunal from Kenneth Dibble, executive director of legal services at the Charity Commission, published in June, says the commission believes benevolent charities whose beneficiaries are nurses or work for the police or emergency services should be treated differently from other benevolent charities because they promote the efficiency of those public services.
The case will be heard at the Rolls Building in the City of London from 14 to 17 November.