Northern Ireland charity regulator moves a step closer

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland Charities Bill.

The amendments included the lowering the length of time a religious charity has to be established in the province before it can qualify for "designated" status from 10 to five years. Designated charities will be exempt from rules that allow the new Charity Commission to appoint interim managers or remove trustees.

The assembly also agreed to raise the upper income limit at which unincorporated charities can transfer all their assets to another charity with similar objectives from £10,000 to £90,000. The amendment was suggested by the Charity Commission for England and Wales.

Worries that rule on public collection permit would require charity shops to apply for a new permit every time they organised a new collection were dismissed. The assembly also rejected the Association of Charity Shops' concerns that the requirement for door-to-door collectors to inform the public who will benefit from the collection, and how much they are being paid, were unworkable.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said the measure was needed to ensure proper public accountability. She also assured assembly members that the new regulator would not be able to change the definition of public benefit without consultation, and that it would bear in mind "spiritual" benefits.

New governance code

Ritchie also welcomed the Northern Ireland voluntary sector's first Code of Good Governance, launched on 6 June by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. The code was created over the past 18 months by a coalition of umbrella bodies and large charities called the Developing Governance Group.

Government: good progress

She also welcomed the release of a report showing that the Northern Ireland Government has made good progress towards achieving the recommendations of the 2005 Positive Steps report on how relations between the government and the third sector could be improved. Ritchie chairs a group of senior officials charged with overseeing the improvements.


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