The Charities Act 2005 emphasises transparency and the availability of information about registered charities to "promote public trust and confidence in the charitable sector".
The Act requires information on the Register to be available to the public. However, it also allows Charities Services to prevent the public from seeing information if it is in the "public interest" to do so. For example, there could be circumstances where it would be in the public interest not to show the name of an officer on the Register in order to protect his or her safety.
Can information on the Charities Register be restricted from public view?
Yes. Section 25 of the Charities Act says that Charities Services may restrict public access to information and documents on the Register “if it considers it in the public interest to do so”. Restricted information will still be on the Register but members of the public won’t be able to see it.
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What information does the Register usually show about a charity?
Section 24 of the Charities Act says that the Register must show the charity's:
- address for service
- registration number
- current officers, and all people who have been officers since the charity was first registered
- rules documents
- application details.
The Register must also show each notice of change, Annual Return and financial statement that is filed by the charity.
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How do we apply to have information restricted from public view?
If you have a reason that you think is in the "public interest", you can make a written request asking for your information to be restricted so the public cannot see it. There is no special form or process to follow. Simply write a letter detailing:
- what information you would like restricted
- why you think it is in the public interest to have it restricted and
- if applicable provide evidence to support your request.
For example, if you claim it would be unsafe for an individual or members of the public if certain information is shown on the Register, provide evidence to support your claim. Or, if applicable, explain how restricting information will help promote philanthropic giving.
If you claim that there will be unreasonable prejudice to your charity's commercial position, you should:
- identify the prejudice
- explain how likely it is that the prejudice will result from disclosure
- explain why the prejudice will be unreasonable
- explain why disclosure of the information would be so likely to cause the prejudice that it is necessary to restrict public access to it.
Include the letter with your application form or, if you are already registered, include it with the form you use to advise us of new information.
We will consider your request (on a case-by-case basis) and write to you to let you know our decision. See our information sheet What you can do if you disagree with our decisions.
If you want information to be restricted from public access you should send us your request at the same time that your send us the information that the request relates to. This may be when you are applying for registration or when you are updating information already on the Register.
If you are updating information that is currently restricted from public access, you must ask for this information to remain restricted, if that is what you want.
Please note that we are not able to consider a request to restrict public access to financial information before we have seen the financial information that the request relates to.
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What does the phrase "public interest" mean?
The Act does not define the phrase "public interest". However, we use its plain meaning, keeping in mind the overall purpose of the Charities Act, which is "to promote public trust and confidence in the charitable sector".
The following are some examples of public interests that may justify restrictions to information:
- ensuring a person’s safety
- protecting the health or safety of members of the public
- recognising the privacy of trustees, volunteers and settlors of private philanthropic charitable trusts to promote philanthropic giving where there is evidence that this philanthropic giving is the main reason for the trust
- reducing the risk of information being used for improper gain or advantage
- reducing the opportunity for disclosure of information that may unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the charity or the person who supplied, or is the subject of, the information
- maintaining the law, including preventing, investigating, and detecting offences, and the right to a fair trial
- any other interest that, in view of all the circumstances of the case, would be considered by Charities Services to be in the public interest.
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What reasons are unlikely to be accepted for restricting financial information?
We are unlikely to accept the following reasons as a basis for restricting financial information:
- "Our organisation has a very large/small asset base."
- "We already release this information to the people who need to see it, therefore it does not need to be available to anyone else."
- "Other entities, which are not registered with Charities Services, do not need to publish their information."
- "People will form the wrong impression about our organisation or use this material to spread misinformation about our organisation."
- "Too many people will ask us for funding."
- "We don't receive donations from the public."
We are also unlikely to grant a request to restrict information if it is already in the public arena – for example, if this information is already available on the Companies Office register or on your own website.
If we do not agree to your request, we will not put the information on the Register before talking to you about your options. These can include:
- withdrawing your request
- changing your request so that only part of the information is restricted
- asking to discontinue the application process or asking to be deregistered
- lodging an appeal with the Registrar of the High Court.
See our information sheet What you can do if you disagree with our decisions.
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Who will have access to restricted information on the Register?
Government - Legally, we must allow access to government agencies. For example, Inland Revenue and Statistics New Zealand may access your information even though it is not publicly available.
Official Information Act request - Section 25 of the Charities Act does not limit the Official Information Act, so information held on the Register (even though it is not publicly available) could be accessed under the Official Information Act.
We consider requests made under the Official Information Act on a case-by-case basis, using the criteria under that Act.
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