NI government seeks views on £20,000 registration threshold proposal for charities

23 May 2024 News

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Department for Communities

The Department for Communities is seeking views on a £20,000 registration threshold proposal for charities in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, the department launched a consultation on whether the threshold “should be based on a charity’s income only or its income and assets and if assets are to be included, at what level the asset threshold should be set”.

The consultation also looks at the future threshold for reporting easements proposed for charities with an annual income below £25,000 in the Independent Review of Charity Regulation.

‘Substantial and disproportionate drain’

Currently, all charities in Northern Ireland must register with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, regardless of their income, and provide an annual report and accounts.

The Department for Communities said this places an administrative burden on smaller charities, which often rely on volunteers, and “a substantial and disproportionate drain” on their resources. 

To address this, in 2022, then minister for communities Deirdre Hargey made provision in the 2022 Act for the introduction of a registration threshold of £20,000 by way of regulations. 

The consultation says charities falling below the threshold will not be legally required to register with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland nor provide an annual report and accounts.

However, they “will be free to register voluntarily if they believe it’s in their interest to do so, or be removed from the register if they are already registered but feel that it is of limited benefit to them”.

The consultation says that while introducing an income-only threshold “would be easier to manage” than a combined income and asset threshold, smaller charities that have sizeable assets “could be removed from the public view and oversight by the regulator”.

‘Biggest reform to regulatory framework since 2008’

Gordon Lyons, Northern Ireland’s minister for communities, said introducing the registration threshold “would be the single biggest reform to the regulatory framework since its introduction in 2008”.

“In passing the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 the Assembly wanted to establish a level playing field for all charities in Northern Ireland regardless of size or charitable purpose,” he wrote in the consultation. 

“However, times change and sectoral representatives suggest there is considerable evidence that the smallest charities have difficulties meeting their legal obligations and that this could be one of the factors leading to a fall in volunteers upon which many of these charities rely.”

Celine McStravick, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), said: “Having supported organisations with charity registrations since its inception, we’ve heard firsthand from trustees of smaller organisations that they find the regulations overwhelming and stressful.

“We see no benefit in having smaller organisations, often led by volunteers, being forced to register with the Charity Commission.

“NICVA has been advocating for this change in the legislation since the implications of the compulsory charity registration on small charities became evident.

“We welcome this consultation which we hope will result in reducing the administrative burden for small charities and remove barriers to volunteering.”

The consultation closes on 11 August 2024.

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