THE Charity Commission
has issued revised guidance to help charities demonstrate how they
fulfil the public-benefit test. The Charities Act 2006 removed the
automatic assumption that certain activities were always
charitable; instead, it required charities to demonstrate that they
operated for the public benefit, using guidance set by the
In June, the Public
Administration Select Committee described this new process as "an
administrative and financial disaster" (News, 14
The new guidance comes in
three parts: the first explains what public benefit is; the second
details how a charity should be run; and the third explains what
trustees should include in their annual reports to demonstrate that
the public benefit is being met.
If an organisation that
seeks to preserve a building claims charitable status for the
"advancement of heritage", it must show the building's
"architectural or historical merit". If a museum seeks charitable
status for the "advancement of the arts", then it should
demonstrate "the artistic merit of an art collection" that is being
Specific guidance for the
charitable purpose "the advancement of religion" is still being
revised. A Charity Commission spokeswoman said that this is
expected to be published by early next year. Until then, the
commission says that its existing advice "no longer forms part of
our public-benefit guidance". It remains available on the
Commissioners' website, "and should be read together with our set
of three public-benefit guides".
The new guidance warns
that charities that charge fees for services or facilities must
"make provision for the poor to benefit", but does not explain how.
"It is for trustees, not the commission or the courts, to decide
how to do this, but [trustees] must act reasonably and make more
than a minimal provision.
"There is no statutory
definition of public benefit; so its meaning will continue to
develop through decisions made by the courts. As the law develops,
we will keep our guidance under review," the Commission says.
"Public benefit is an
important part of what makes the work of charities so valuable to
the community," the Charity Commission chairman, William Shawcross,
said. "Trustees . . . need to understand how their charity benefits
the public, and work to deliver and report on those benefits.
"Public benefit is a
complex area of charity law to explain. But, for most charities,
demonstrating that their purposes are for the public benefit,
carrying them out for the public benefit, and reporting on their
public benefit, is straightforward."
A Devon-based Brethren congregation, the Preston Down Trust, is
currently challenging the Charity Commissioners' decision to deny
it charitable status for failing the public-benefit test. A claim
brought before the First Tier Tribunal is currently stayed until
January, while the trustees and Commissioners seek to negotiate an