Making a complaint about a registered charity
Charities Services regulates registered charities in Aotearoa New Zealand. We help make sure that charities are accountable, well-run and meet their legal obligations under the Charities Act 2005.
One way we do this is by inquiring into or investigating possible deliberate breaches of the Charities Act 2005 or serious wrongdoing involving registered charities. By investigating these serious concerns, and putting in place measures to address them, our objective is to promote public trust and confidence in charities and the effective use of charitable resources.
Many of our inquiries and investigations are initiated by complaints we receive about registered charities.
What we may investigate
Examples of issues that we may inquire into or investigate include where a charity is:
- losing significant amounts of money
- involved in unlawful or corrupt use of charitable funds
- directly or indirectly funding terrorism
- causing serious harm to the people the charity helps or other people who come into contact with the charity through its work
- set up for illegal or improper purposes, or to abuse tax laws
- being used for significant personal profit or gain
- involved in oppressive or discriminatory conduct
- governed by a person who is disqualified from being an officer under the Charities Act
- not reporting accurately and consistently with the requirements in the Charities Act
- not entitled to be registered under the Charities Act.
We can also investigate an organisation that claims to be a registered charity when it is not.
Consistent with our compliance approach(external link), we will assess the level of risk when deciding what action to take in response to a complaint. Opening a case inquiry or investigation are just two possible outcomes. In many cases, we can resolve the issue by engaging directly with the charity, and providing advice, support and guidance.
What we don't investigate
We don’t have the power to investigate every complaint that is raised, particularly where the concern is outside our area of regulatory responsibility or is better addressed by another organisation. For example, concerns or complaints about:
- criminal or illegal activities of charities. We will refer these matters to the relevant law enforcement agency.
- disputes or disagreements within a charity that do not amount to serious wrongdoing or a breach of the Charities Act. These include complaints about meeting processes, and disagreements about decisions made by governing bodies or management teams. These concerns should be raised directly with the charity. We have some information on our website about resolving disputes(external link) that might help.
- the services provided by a charity. These should be directed to the charity.
- employment issues. The Employment New Zealand website(external link) has guidance on resolving employment disputes.
- health and safety issues. Concerns about an unsafe or unhealthy work situation that could lead to a death or serious injury or illness can be directed to Worksafe(external link).
- a child’s welfare. Get in touch with Oranga Tamariki(external link) if you think a child or young person may be unsafe or in danger of harm, or suffering from ill-treatment, abuse or neglect.
How to make a complaint
You will need to make your complaint about a registered charity in writing. You can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at:
PO Box 12138
Wellington Central 6011
We need the following information so that we can effectively assess your complaint and decide the appropriate course of action:
- the name of the charity and/or persons involved in a charity that you’re complaining about.
- the charity’s registration (CC) number, if known.
- a short, clear description of the reasons for your complaint and the effect on the charity. Keep focused on the main issue, not the minor details.
- any actions you have taken relating to your concerns, including whether you have raised your concerns with the charity or persons involved, or with any other agency, and any response.
- your relationship or connection with the charity and/or the person(s) you are complaining about (for example, if you are a former employee, volunteer, board member or professional providing services to the charity).
- your contact details, including email address and phone number. You can provide information anonymously, but this may limit our ability to investigate your complaint.
You can also provide evidence to support your complaint. Examples of evidence include:
- copies of bank or credit card statements
- copies of invoices or receipts
- copies of contracts, policies and procedures
- internal complaints or reports from other agencies highlighting failures or weaknesses involving the charity
- copies of any legal or professional advice that hasn’t been followed
- media reports involving the charity
- literature issued by the charity that is related to your complaint.
After you submit a complaint
When you make a complaint about a charity, we will notify you that the concern has been received. In some cases, we may contact you for additional information.
We assess complaints to establish:
- whether we have the legal power to act, or
- whether the complaint or concern should be dealt with by another regulator, public body or law enforcement agency. If so, we may be able to refer you to the agency that has responsibility for dealing with the issue or, in more serious cases, refer the matter on ourselves. When we refer matters on, we will let you know this is the action we have taken.
Where we do have legal power to act, we assess the level of risk associated with the complaint. This involves considering several factors, including the nature of the concerns raised, any supporting evidence or information, and factors that point to the charity being a higher risk. Lower risk complaints are usually dealt with by us providing advice or guidance, either to you or the charity. Higher risk complaints are referred to a triage committee to determine next steps. The triage committee usually meets monthly. You will be advised of the outcome.
Your details may be released if requested
Information relating to complaints, including your details, is subject to requests under the Official Information Act 1982 and Privacy Act 2020. If we receive a request for information under these Acts, we will contact you before releasing your information. We may be able to withhold your personal details to protect your privacy.
The provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 may apply. This Act allows employees, contractors and volunteers of organisations, including registered charities, to report serious wrongdoing happening in the organisation without having to worry that detrimental action will be taken against them. Further information about this Act is available on the Ombudsman’s website(external link).