Applying for charitable status:

There are financial advantages of being registered as a charity. Charities are exempted from certain taxes and/or pay reduced rates.  They are also eligible to claim Gift Aid on charitable donations A register of charities is available on the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland’s webpages.

How to apply for charitable status?

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is the regulator of charities registered in Northern Ireland.

To apply to be registered as a charity with the Charity Commission NI your organisation must exist for a charitable purpose (most commonly ‘the advancement of animal welfare’) and be for public benefit. This means that some benefit must flow from your activities which is not restricted to a small private class of people.  While rescues and rehoming organisations can (and often do) work with other similar organisations, in order to be registered as a charity in Northern Ireland an organisation must have control over its own governance and finances.

Being a trustee of a charitable organisation:

Trustees can come from all walks of life. It is advantageous to have trustees who each  have different backgrounds, skills and expertise. Being a trustee is rewarding and it has been deemed in the public interest to encourage volunteering. However it does entail certain responsibilities and duties:

–              While trustees can be reimbursed for costs incurred, they should not profit from their position as a trustee.

–              They should also take care not to put themselves in a position where their own self-interest conflicts with the interests of the charity.

If there is a minimum number of trustees specified in your organisation’s governing document, then you will need to comply with this. If not, it is considered good practice to have a minimum of three trustees.

You are not eligible to be a trustee of a charity if you:

–       have been convicted of an offence involving deception or dishonesty, unless the conviction is spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978

–       are an undischarged bankrupt or have made an arrangement with creditors

–       have previously been removed as a charity trustee by the Charity Commission or a court

–       are subject to disqualification under company law.

What happens if I/my charity breaks the law?

Serious incidents must be reported to the charity commission of Northern Ireland. Examples of a serious incident would include any major event which compromises your charity’s public profile/reputation and/or financial mismanagement resulting in a significant financial loss.

Trustees may be sued either collectively or individually for serious breaches of trustee duties. While not a legal requirement, it is advisable to consider trustee liability insurance, although note that as a matter of public policy the consequences of criminal activity cannot be insured against, and so there is no insurance coverage for a fine imposed as a consequence of corporate or individual offending


Charities Act Northern Ireland 2008, 2022

Trustee Act Northern Ireland (2001)

Charitable status and political campaigning:

Becoming a charity places some restrictions on the extent to which organisations can engage in political activities. While charities can engage in activities, such as lobbying for legal reform which is aligned to their purposes, this cannot be your organisation’s primary objective. Charities are generally expected to appear politically neutral; this means that while your organisation may work with particular MLAs or MPs to publicise certain animal welfare campaigns or lobby for legal reform, your charity cannot be seen to endorse a particular candidate or party. More guidance is available here.

Charity financial annual reporting requirements:

Charities are required to submit an annual report to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, outlining their annual accounts, as well as their activities and governance structures.

Financial reports should include:

–              A financial statement outlining all income and expenditure during that reporting period.

–              A balance sheet showing the financial status of the charity as of the end of that reporting period. This should include a comparison with the previous reporting period.

–              Where appropriate charities may want to also outline their income streams over that reporting period.

There are differing annual reporting requirements for charities registered before and after the end of May 2019.

If registered as a charity after the end of May 2019:

Charity trustees have a legal requirement to prepare and submit their annual return, accounts and reports for their first full financial year after registration and every year after that.

If registered as a charity before the end of May 2019:

If your charity has voluntarily submitted annual reports and accounts in previous years the charity commission advise that it is good practice, to continue to do so for every financial year. However, it is not a legal requirement to do this – legally your first financial period to file reports is for the financial period starting on or after 01 April 2022. For more detail on reporting deadlines for charities registered before the end of May 2019 pls follow this link.

Applying to HMRC for charitable status?

All charities registered in Northern Ireland need to register with HMRC to be eligible for tax advantages, including Gift Aid.

The address is:

HMRC Charities
St John’s House
Merton Road
L75 1BB

The Law:

The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008

The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2022

The Charities (Accounts and Reports) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 regulation 8

Charities may be incorporated or unincorporated:

If a charity is incorporated this means it has its own legal standing, meaning that the organisation itself (rather than a named trustee) can enter into contracts. There are pros and cons of becoming incorporated, for example trustee liability is more limited however the organisation will be subject to dual registration and reporting regimes under charity and company law.

The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 [S[1] [S[2] 

 [S[1]so I think part 11 hasn’t actually come into force.. so they can be incorporated charities but the old style ones where subject to dual reg as companies and charities not The CIO which is introduced in the 2008 act

 [S[2]I don’t think the 2022 act makes any dif re this.