Monitoring and investigation
The Commission's Compliance team monitors and investigates charities and their activities, to ensure they continue to qualify for registration. We do this so the public can be assured that registered charities meet all the requirements of the Charities Act, and can feel trust and confidence in them and their activities.
The Compliance team receive and investigate complaints about charities, and we also open our own enquiries into charities and people that may be involved in serious wrongdoing. We receive a range of different complaints and information about charities, but there are only certain kinds of complaints we get involved in.
We will respond to complaints that involve possible breaches of the Charities Act, including serious wrongdoing. Generally though, we will not involve the Commission if the complaint relates to an internal dispute within the charity (unless it affects its eligibility for registration), or to the charity's employment, contractual or service delivery obligations.
What issues should you tell the Commission about?
If you have information or evidence about a serious risk of significant harm to or abuse of a charity, its assets, beneficiaries or reputation, you should advise the Commission.
More detailed information can be found on our Complaints page.
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What kind of matters will the Commission not become involved in?
We prioritise our resources, and will look into activities and issues where the risks to the charity's eligibility for registration or to its effective and legal operation are highest. We are unlikely to investigate disputes that relate to contractual, employment, or service delivery matters.
We won't become involved if your concern is about a decision made by the officers of the charity that is within the law and within the rules of the charity.
Also, we cannot overrule a decision or policy made by a charity's officers that is within their powers to make, simply because others do not agree with it. Deciding policy for the charity is a key part of officers' responsibilities. Officers may make decisions that include:
- how they choose to seek resolution to the dispute, including differences of opinion over spiritual or doctrinal matters, within religious or other belief-based charities
- deciding how community facilities (such as a local hall, community centre or playing field) are used
- deciding how to consult paid staff, volunteers, clients, members and other interested parties about decisions and policies of the charity they use or support
- the terms and conditions of occupancy or use of charity land, and, (provided that legal and constitutional requirements are met), its disposal.
If you have a dispute with a charity that involves one of the examples above, we encourage you to use all available methods to resolve it directly with the charity before you contact us.
Sometimes, disputes can occur between a charity's members, within its governing and management bodies or between the charity and a third party such as a landlord or supplier.
If the dispute has the potential to damage a charity, it is important that the officers or management resolve it quickly by working in the best interests of the charity to minimise any impact on its operations and beneficiaries.
Your charity should have set policies and procedures for resolving disputes and complaints. These may be set out in your rules or in a separate policy document. Following these written procedures should enable disputes to be resolved quickly.
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When will the Commission take regulatory action and what is the likely nature of the regulatory action?
We may exercise our powers under the Charities Act when there is evidence of:
- the charity no longer meeting the requirements for registration
- a breach of the Charities Act
- 'serious wrongdoing' in connection with a charity.
If the issue cannot be corrected, or the charity is not willing to comply with the Act, then enforcement action can be taken.
We decide the best course of regulatory action to take based on an assessment of the:
- particular circumstances
- seriousness and scale of the problem
- level of risk to the charity (activities, beneficiaries, property or reputation)
- available evidence
- likelihood of a successful outcome.
Options available to us include providing information, education and help to comply with the Charities Act, enforcement, and, as a last resort, removal from the Register.
Enforcement options include issuing and publishing warning notices, imposing administrative penalties, or prosecution for offences under the Charities Act.
We can prosecute an organisation if it falsely claims that it is a registered charity, or if it does not provide required information or documents to us.
We may remove a charity from the Register if:
- it is no longer qualified for registration as a charitable entity
- there has been a significant or persistent failure by the charity to meet its obligations under legislation
- there has been a significant or persistent failure by the officers or collectors of the charity to meet their obligations under the Act
- the charity has engaged in serious wrongdoing
- a person has engaged in serious wrongdoing in connection with a charity.
If a charity has been removed from the Register, we can make an order preventing it from re-registering for a certain period and/or make an order disqualifying a person from being an officer of a registered charity for a period up to five years.
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When should our charity seek outside help, and who could we we approach?
If there are no set procedures within your organisation, or if the procedures break down or need clarification, one or more of the people involved in the dispute should look for help from outside the charity.
An outside person or organisation can provide a fresh perspective and may help facilitate a quicker solution. You could consider approaching (or employing):
- your charity's regional or national body, if there is one
- a relevant government department or agency — for example, the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Human Rights Commission, or Te Puni Kokiri
- an agency that deals with dispute resolution — for example, Employment Services at the Department of Labour, the Disputes Tribunal or Tenancy Tribunal at the Ministry of Justice, or the Health and Disability Commissioner
- a Community Law Centre or lawyer who can provide independent legal advice
- a neutral and respected person from your community — for example a kaumatua or community elder
- a professional mediator.
We encourage you to ask your local Citizens' Advice Bureau for assistance in accessing the services you might need.
You should seek help from an independent professional advisor if the dispute is about contractual or other property rights, which are matters between the charity and a third party. For example:
- employment issues or claims of unfair dismissal
- disputes relating to contracts with the charity, including landlord-and-tenant disputes.
You should also seek professional advice if the dispute is connected with a planning application or control of property development.
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What happens when we make a complaint and what will the Charities Commission do?
When we receive a complaint that does not meet our criteria, we will keep the information on record and acknowledge your complaint, but will not take any further action.
If, after receiving your written complaint, we decide that your concerns require our involvement, we will assess the facts and determine the most appropriate course of action within the boundaries of the Charities Act.
Where information or education for the charity or another party is appropriate, we will aim to provide it and try to secure a positive outcome for the parties involved.
If appropriate, we may refer your complaint or information we have received to another government agency that has a mandate to deal with it.
For more information, see the process chart below:
Charities Commission complaint process chart
How we resolve a situation depends on the level of risk involved to the charity's activities, beneficiaries, property or reputation, and the likelihood of a successful outcome.
For more information, see the Department's Prosecution Policy.
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