Rain check on registration

Excepted charities now have until 2014 to register with the Charity Commission.

Churches: Further delays to the registration deadline could take place
Churches: Further delays to the registration deadline could take place

The Charities Act 2006 introduced a requirement that all excepted charities with annual incomes of more than £100,000 must register with the Charity Commission.

These are charities that are regulated by the commission but have not been previously required to register with it and are mainly made up of churches and chapels of some Christian denominations, charitable service funds of the armed forces and Scout and Guide groups.

The Cabinet Office estimates that there are about 80,000 charities with excepted status in the UK, and the Charity Commission says it has registered about 4,000 excepted charities with incomes of more than £100,000, including Church of England, Methodist and Baptist churches and chapels.

Registration of armed forces charities with annual incomes exceeding £100,000 has been taking place on a phased basis since 2008, and the commission introduced an online registration facility for excepted charities in the same year.

But the deadline for those that must register with the commission has been repeatedly put back - most recently it had been set to 1 October. In July, Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, laid a statutory instrument before parliament that extended the deadline to 31 March 2014. It is the fourth time the deadline has been delayed since the regulations were introduced.

Some lawyers believe that further extensions are likely because of the uncertainty over how the commission treats religious charities and public benefit. Tom Murdoch, an associate at the law firm Stone King, says that the historic reasons for excepted status are connected with the inherent belief that advancing religion is for the public good and therefore charitable.

Murdoch says that even before the 2006 act came into being, a "broad recognition" that excepted status needed to change had formed.

"Because excepted charities have had a relationship with establishments like the church and with government, there was previously no requirement for registration," he says.

"The 2006 act reflected a consensus that ideally all charities should be brought under the same canvas."

But he says that because the 2006 act says religious charities are no longer presumed to be for the public benefit, there could be further delays to the registration deadline.

"Losing excepted status triggers a registration requirement for a charity," he says. "Part of that is a consideration of their public benefit requirement.

"Because this is currently unclear in the case of religious charities there would understandably be uncertainty, particularly among trustees, as to how the Charity Commission would handle these applications."

Mike Scott, a partner at the law firm Charles Russell, says extending the deadline was necessary because the Charity Commission was not in a position to handle the administrative challenges mass registrations would present. He says that for this reason he expects further deadline extensions beyond 2014 while the commission's budget is increasingly squeezed.

Scott believes the registration of excepted charities is not a priority in the current climate.

"People would rather see priority given to strong leadership of the commission and to weightier issues such as Lord Hodgson's report, the amended public benefit guidance and the introduction of the charitable incorporated organisation legal form."

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