Student unions eye benefit test

King's College London Student Union will open the UK's first student support centre in September to help demonstrate its public benefit as it prepares to register with the Charity Commission next year.

Student unions are classified as exempt charities and are regulated by their universities. Under the Charities Act 2006, however, those with incomes of more than £100,000 will have to apply to the commission to become registered charities (Third Sector, 21 March).

"The old perception of student unions is that they are only bars, but we want to prove we are charitable," Steve Vaid, chief executive of KCLSU told Third Sector. "We want to change our ethos."

The new centre will provide support to students on non-educational issues, such as money and sexual health. It will also encourage students to volunteer.

Leeds University Union is among those also gearing up for the change, and has just appointed a new board of trustees.

Lesley Dixon, chief executive of LUU, said: "In the past, all our trustees were student officers, but they did not always have the experience. So we have had an open recruitment process for the first time. We have also put our accounts in Sorp format and are taking the necessary steps in terms of governance so that, when a date is finally set for registration, we are ready to go."

But Vaid warned that not all student unions were ready to register. "There does seem to be a degree of under-preparedness among some," he said. "The focus so far on exempt charities seems to have been on schools, and it would be good to have more advice from the commission."

A spokesman for the commission said: "We have already had various meetings with the National Union of Students to identify possible stumbling blocks and are obviously happy to provide advice to anyone with questions."

Matt Hyde, chief executive of the NUS, said: "Charities that are ready are keen to register soon because they will have access to more funding streams."

Fact file

- The UK's 600 higher and further education organisations have to comply with company law.

- 150 student unions have incomes of more than £100,000. A few have incomes of between £5m and £10m.

- Foundation and voluntary aided schools will also have to register if their incomes are more than £100,000.


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