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 Charities 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. This is a high threshold. 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.
We do not publish date of birth or home address details of officers on the Charities Register. You do not need to apply to have these identifying details restricted from public view.
What information does the Register usually show about a charity?
Section 24 of the Charities Act says that the Register must show a registered 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 Annual Return, financial statement and any updates filed by the charity.
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 any information and documents on the Register “if it considers it in the public interest to do so”.
What does the phrase "public interest" mean?
The Charities Act does not define the phrase "public interest". We use its plain meaning, keeping in mind one of the purposes of the Act, "to promote public trust and confidence in the charitable sector", and that the Register is intended to allow the public to obtain information relating to the nature, activities, and purposes of charitable entities.
We consider that the transparency of information about charities is in the public interest and central to our function, and any “public interest” reason to withhold information must outweigh this consideration.
The following are some examples of public interests that may justify restrictions to information:
- Protecting the health or safety of members of the public
- For example: a women’s refuge may wish the names of officers and the physical location of the office restricted from public view.
- Protecting the privacy of individuals employed by a charity
- For example: a charity may wish to withhold some details of related party transactions in its financial statements, where they disclose the salary details of a staff member.
- Recognising the privacy of volunteers and individuals who donate to charitable causes
- For example: a charity may wish some details of their financials withheld if they include details of donors
- Reducing the risk of information being used for improper gain or advantage
- For example: if a charity submits a signed and unsigned governing document, on request under section 25, we will publish the unsigned deed to prevent the improper use of the officers’ signature.
- 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
- For example: where a charity’s financial information includes information pertaining to the value of an asset which is currently the subject of negotiation with a third party.
- PLEASE NOTE: If your charity operates in a competitive environment, this will not be a sufficient reason for withholding a whole Annual Return.
- Maintaining the law, including preventing, investigating, and detecting offences, and the right to a fair trial
- For example: where an entity is engaged in legal investigatory activity and requires privacy for trustees and activities to carry out its function.
This is not an exhaustive list and Charities Services will consider any other interest that, in view of all the circumstances of the case, is assessed by Charities Services to be in the public interest.
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."
- “Other commercial entities may gain a competitive advantage through publishing the information.”
- “Publishing the information may influence our bargaining power with employees or the government.”
- “Our financials do not have a lot of information”
- “Our financials have not been audited yet.”
- “The officers or settlor of the organisation have a desire for privacy.”
- "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 you have a reason that you consider is in the "public interest", you can make a written request asking for your information to be restricted so the public cannot see it. Your written request must set out:
- what information you would like restricted
- why you think it is in the public interest to have it restricted
- evidence to support your request.
If you claim that there will be unreasonable prejudice to your charity's commercial position or reducing the risk of information for improper gain or advantage, you should:
- identify the specific prejudice or risk
- explain how likely it is that the prejudice or risk will result from disclosure
- explain why the prejudice or risk will be unreasonable or improper
- explain why disclosure of the information would be so likely to cause the prejudice that it is necessary to restrict public access to it.
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. The relevant forms have further information about what you need to do.
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.
If you are applying to withhold part of a document (for example, part of your charity’s financial statements or rules document), you must provide us with a complete (unedited) version of your document. If we agree to your request, you may need to provide an edited version of the document, omitting the relevant information, for the Register.
What happens if we do not agree to your request?
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 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 as a charity
- seeking a judicial review of the decision in the High Court or make a complaint to the Ombudsman
See What you can do if you disagree with our decisions for more information.
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 requests - 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, according to the criteria under that Act.