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Registered Charities

Charitable purpose examples

"Charitable purpose" has a special meaning in law. We use examples to illustrate the treatment of charitable purpose under the Charities Act. Click on each purpose (below) to view more detail.

Beneficial to the community

Not all organisations which have purposes that benefit the community will be charitable. The purposes must benefit the community in a way that the law regards as charitable.

To be charitable under this category, the organisation’s purpose must be —

The Statute of Elizabeth (otherwise known as the Charitable Uses Act 1601) was passed in England to protect and prevent the misuse of charitable funds.

 

The preamble to the Statute contained the following list of purposes considered charitable at that time:

Over the years, courts have recognised many new charitable purposes that are very similar to those categorised in 1601, acknowledging that what is accepted as a "charitable purpose" must change to reflect current social and economic circumstances.

The courts have considered whether:

Courts have found the following purposes to be "beneficial to the community":

As well as development of the law through the Courts, section 61A of the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 says that it is charitable to provide, or help to provide, facilities for recreation or other leisure-time occupation, if the facilities are provided in the interests of social welfare, and there is a public benefit.

"In the interests of social welfare" means that:

a. the facilities must be provided to improve the conditions of life for the people for whom the facilities are primarily intended and

b. either:
- those people need those facilities because of their youth, age, infirmity, disability, poverty, race, occupation, or social or economic circumstances; or
- the facilities are available to all members of the public, or to all male or all female members of the public.

Among other things, this applies to providing facilities at public halls, community centres, and women’s institutes, and to providing and maintaining grounds and buildings to be used for recreation or leisure-time activities. It also extends to the organising of any activity. There must always be a public benefit from any of these activities.

The Courts have said that it is not necessary to establish that the facilities are primarily intended for people who are socially disadvantaged in some way in order to be "in the interests of social welfare". It is enough that the facilities are provided with the aim of improving the conditions of life for members of the community in general.

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Advancement of education

To be charitable under this category, your organisation's purpose must -

The modern concept of "education" covers formal education, training and research in specific areas of study and expertise. It also includes less formal education in the development of individual capabilities, competencies, skills and understanding. It does not include propagandist or political purposes.

To "advance" education, learning must be passed on to others. If research is to be conducted, it must be in an objective and impartial way and the useful results made available, or accessible, to the public.

Courts have found the following purposes to "advance education" —

 

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Advancement of religion

To be charitable under this category, your organisation's purpose must -

Generally, to be religious there needs to be -

To "advance" religion, the faith must be passed on to others by promoting it, spreading its message, or taking positive steps to sustain and increase the religious belief.

For example, a court has said that religion is not advanced by an entirely enclosed religious order where the activities consist only of private prayer. (Alternatively, a court has said that offering public prayers for the soul of a deceased person gives benefit to all who hear them.)

Courts have found the following purposes to "advance religion" —

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Relief of poverty

To be charitable under this category, your organisation's purpose must -

"Poverty" is interpreted broadly in law. People who are in need, aged, or who are suffering genuine financial hardship from a temporary or long-term change in their circumstances are likely to qualify for assistance.

Generally, this includes anyone who does not have access to the normal things of life that most people take for granted.

To provide "relief", the people who benefit should have an identifiable need arising from their condition that requires support. These people should have difficulty in addressing that need themselves. Courts have found the following purposes to "relieve poverty" —

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