Keep it legal: Registering halls as charities

Unusual buildings such as village halls are a bit like elephants in the charities legal test: we may not be able to describe them, but we know one when we see it.

According to the Charity Commission, the term 'village hall' describes a charity that provides space and facilities for community activities, but may not have the words 'village hall' in the registered charity name.

In fact, 5 per cent of charities on the register are village halls or community centres, and more than 9,000 of them are recognised as charities in England and Wales.

Like all charities, a hall needs to be registered only if its income exceeds £10,000 a year or it has the use or occupation of any land. However, a village hall will almost by definition use or occupy land and will thus be required to register.

If the charity has an income of less than £10,000 per year, the registration process will be dealt with by the Charity Commission's Liverpool office.

However, the length of the registration process can be shortened by using one of the model governing documents available on the commission's website.

Action with Communities in Rural England also produces - for a fee - a standard governing document for use by village halls, which is more tailored to their requirements.

In general, use of the Acre document will make it easier for the commission to register a charity than if a charity produces its own document, which will then have to be examined in detail. In most cases, the standard documents are recommended unless a charity's trustees feel they are unsuitable.

The Acre document can be purchased from its website, which also has a comprehensive list of other publications and documents on every aspect of running a village hall. Acre also offers a network of village hall advisers and a loan fund.

When registration is achieved, the challenge for community organisations is maintaining volunteer enthusiasm and motivation. Village halls have an advantage over other charities in that their members can usually see an immediate local benefit, but all organisations need to plan if they are to maintain momentum. A good village hall can transform a community, and many do.

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