Religious Designation for Registered Charities

March 24, 2017

Under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (“the Act”), faith-based charities can apply for religious designation, a status that exempts them from a number of sections of the Act.

What is religious designation?

The aim of religious designation is to ensure that the regulatory powers of the Charity Commission are proportionate to the supervisory and disciplinary structures that certain religious charities already have in place.

Once a charity has been given religious designation, it is exempt from sections 33 to 36 of the Act. These sections of the Act give the Commission a number of powers which it can use to protect a charity, for example, by suspending or removing trustees or appointing an interim manager.

However, it is important to note that religious designation is distinct from charity registration and whether a charity receives designation or not will have no impact on its status as a registered charity.

How can a charity acquire religious designation?

Religious designation is not granted automatically, rather, it is up to individual charities to consider whether they wish to apply and provide evidence that they meet the conditions set out in the Act.

These conditions are that:

  1. the advancement of religion is the principal purpose of the charity;
  2. the regular holding of public worship is the principal activity of the charity;
  3. the charity has been established in Northern Ireland for at least five years[1];
  4. the charity has an internal organisation to ensure that there are authorities in place to deal with supervisory and disciplinary matters affecting it and all of its component elements (such as individual congregations); and
  5. the charity has procedures to ensure that all of its component elements are subject to requirements to keep accounting records and to audit accounts that correspond with the requirements in the Act.

What happens after religious designation has been granted?

Once a charity has been granted religious designation, its entry on the register of charities will be updated to show that it has been ‘registered with religious designation’.

Each of its component elements (which can be separately constituted charities in their own right) will also be included in the overall designation and in addition it will be noted on their entries.

Can religious designation be withdrawn?

A charity registered with religious designation must ensure that it continues to meet the conditions listed above and that all of its supervisory, disciplinary and governance arrangements are maintained.

[1] It is important to note that there are two exceptions to this condition. These are:-

  1. where a charity has been created by the amalgamation of two or more charities each of which, immediately before the amalgamation, was designated or eligible to be designated; and
  2. where a charity has been established by persons who had removed themselves from a charity which, immediately before their removal, was designated or eligible to be designated.

In both of these cases, a charity may still be eligible for religious designation even though it has not been established in Northern Ireland for five years.

If a charity fails to do so, the religious designation could be withdrawn. This means that the term ‘registered with religious designation’ will be removed from the charity’s entry and that it will no longer be exempt from sections 33 to 36 of the Act, giving the Charity Commission additional powers over the charity. Any withdrawal will also extend to all of its component elements.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor.