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 your charity it is important that the officers or management resolve it quickly by working in the best interests of the charity to minimise the negative impact on operations.
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 and internally.
What kind of matters will the Commission not become involved in?
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 or within the rules of the charity. Also, we cannot overrule a decision, including deciding policy, made by officers that is within their powers to make, simply because others do not agree with it.
Deciding policy is a key part of officers' freedoms and responsibilities, and may include:
- seeking 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.
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We encourage you to use all available methods to resolve the dispute before you contact us.
If you wish to make a complaint to the Commission and you are sure all possible steps have been taken to resolve the matter, you should send us written details of your complaint, supported by evidence.
See our Complaints information sheet for more details about how to do this.
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 charity.
How we provide a solution will depend on the level of risk involved to the charity's activities, beneficiaries, property or reputation, and the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Once a course of action has been agreed, we expect all parties to commit to implementing the solution.
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When will the Commission take regulatory action in a dispute and what is the likely nature of the regulatory action?
We will consider exercising 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 formal action, including removal from the Register, is likely.
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.
The 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 warning notices, publishing notices on the charity's listing on the Register, 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:
- the entity is not, or is no longer, qualified for registration as a charitable entity
- there has been a significant or persistent failure by the entity 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.
We will inquire into any person who is engaged in conduct in breach of the Charities Act or where there is serious wrongdoing in connection with a registered charity. We do this if we consider the enquiry is reasonably necessary for the purposes of carrying out our functions and exercising our powers under the Act.
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When should we approach other organisations and who should they be?
If there are no set procedures as described above, the process breaks down, or the written procedures 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 will provide a fresh perspective and may help facilitate a quick solution.
You could consider:
- approaching your charity's regional or national body, if there is one
- seeking assistance from 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
- approaching an agency that deals with dispute resolution in the area of concern — 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
- obtaining independent legal advice from a Community Law Centre or by engaging a lawyer
- approaching a neutral and respected person from your community — for example a kaumatua or community elder
- employing the services of a professional mediator.
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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