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Charities regulator to be appointed during Q1 2014

23 October 2017

The establishment of a Charities Regulatory Authority is a key provision of the Charities Act 2009. Although the Act was passed in 2009, the vast majority of its provisions have not yet been commenced.

It is intended that the Authority will take on the existing functions of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests of Ireland. The Act was introduced to reform the law relating to charities in Ireland, in order to bring about greater accountability and protect against possible abuse of the charitable status.

In addition, the Authority will have the following general functions:

  • increase public trust and confidence in the management and administration of charitable trusts and charitable organisations;
  • promote compliance by charity trustees with their duties in the control and management of charitable trusts and charitable organisations;
  • promote the effective use of the property of charitable trusts or charitable organisations;
  • ensure the accountability of charitable organisations to donors and beneficiaries of charitable gifts, and the public;
  • promote understanding of the requirement that charitable purposes confer a public benefit;
  • establish and maintain a register of charitable organisations;
  • ensure and monitor compliance by charitable organisations with this Act;
  • carry out investigations in accordance with this Act;
  • encourage and facilitate the better administration and management of charitable organisations by the provision of information or advice, including in particular by way of issuing (or, as it considers appropriate, approving) guidelines, codes of conduct, and model constitutional documents;
  • carry on activities or publish information (including statistical information) concerning charitable organisations and trusts as it considers appropriate; and
  • provide information (including statistical information) or advice, or make proposals, to the Minister for Justice and Equality on matters relating to the functions of the Authority.

Registered charities will be required to pay an annual registration fee to the Authority which will be set out in regulations by the Minister. An annual fee range of between €75 and €500 (based on the gross annual income of the charity) has been proposed, with a token fee for very small charities. However, it is not expected that fees will be levied on charities before 2015.The Act also provides for the establishment by the Charities Regulatory Authority of a register of charitable organisations. 

Most registered charities will be required to supply annual accounts to the Authority under the Act. The type of information to be contained in the accounts will be set out in regulations by the Minister. The charity's trustees are responsible for ensuring that each charitable organisation keeps proper books of account that correctly record and explain the transactions of the organisation. The charity's trustees are also responsible for preparing a statement of accounts, the form and content of which will be set down in regulations by the Minister. Where the gross income or expenditure of a charitable organisation in a financial year does not exceed €100,000, the charity trustees may, instead of preparing an annual statement of accounts in respect of that year, prepare an income and expenditure account in respect of, and a statement of the assets and liabilities of, the charitable organisation.

All registered charities will be required under the Act to supply an annual report to the Authority. There is some flexibility under the Act in terms of the content of the annual report. The reports will be made available to the public. The Act sets out the duties and responsibilities of charity trustees. Provision is made in the Act for Trustee Indemnity Insurance, whereby charities will be permitted to indemnify their trustees for any act or omission, provided they are satisfied that the act or omission was done honestly and in good faith. 

The Act provides for the establishment of a Charity Appeals Tribunal to determine appeals against decisions made by the Authority. Appeals against decisions of the Tribunal will be to the High Court.

Since its enactment, only a small number of sections of the Act have been commenced. The substantive effect of the commencement of these sections is to allow the Courts to grant relief to a charity trustee from liability for breach of trust where the trustee acted in good faith and to regulate the sale of pre-signed Mass cards.