Public benefit guidance released for poverty and religious groups

Charities that relieve poverty among asylum seekers will still be providing public benefit even if there are public policy reasons for denying asylum seekers state benefits, according to draft guidance published by the Charity Commission today.

The advice is part of Public Benefit and the Prevention or Relief of Poverty, which was released alongside another document, Public Benefit and the Advancement of Religion, to help charities demonstrate their public benefit.

The assumption that charities promoting religion and education or relieving poverty provide public benefit was not included in the Charities Act 2006. Trustees of these charities will have to include an explanation in their annual reports of how they meet the public benefit test, which was set out by the commission in January (Third Sector, 16 January).

Poverty guidance

The poverty guidance says that charities should not consider how potential beneficiaries came to be poor or consider whether they are entitled to state benefits. It says poverty is relative and should be defined according to a charity’s aims. Prevention of poverty can also be charitable, as can the relief of short-term poverty.

Religion guidance

The guidance says that the commission does not want to change or try to modernise long-held religious beliefs and asks for charities’ feedback on its definition of religion. It stresses the distinction between simply holding religious beliefs and advancing religion, which it says could involve proselytising, providing places of worship, raising awareness and understanding of religion, or facilitating retreats or pilgrimages.

It warns that religious organisations carrying out acts such as visiting the sick must distinguish their activities from similar secular work, and says that advancing religion does not mean advancing a political purpose in the name of religion.

The consultation period on the two documents, which are available on the commission’s website, runs until 30 June. The regulator is aiming to publish its final supplementary guidance by the end of the year. Draft guidance on demonstrating public benefit for fee-charging and education charities is expected in March.

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