Northern Ireland's charity act to be amended

Lawyers claim the current act is open to challenge because it combines elements of both English and Scottish charity law

Charity Commission NI
Charity Commission NI

Northern Ireland's Charities Act will be amended in order to clear up a discrepancy caused by its mixture of English and Scottish law.

The act, passed in 2008, contains some provisions taken from the Charities Act 2006, which applies to England and Wales, and some from the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.

Lawyers had raised concerns that the act was open to legal challenge because the two sets of provisions were not compatible.

The Northern Ireland Act defines a charitable purpose as "a purpose which is for the public benefit" – the same definition used in the English act. However, it also says an organisation wanting to register as a charity will be assessed on whether it "provides or intends to provide public benefit" – the definition from the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.

The discrepancy would allow lawyers to claim it was unclear whether, when registering charities, the Northern Ireland Charity Commission would assess their stated aims, as is the case in England and Wales, or their activities, as happens in Scotland.

It is not yet clear which part of the legislation will be changed, or whether both parts will be.

A statement from the Charity Commission Northern Ireland, which asked the Department for Social Development to review the legislation, said: "The amendment will clarify the law and allow the commission to issue new guidance and begin registration. It is not clear at this stage how long the process will take."

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