1. This commentary gives a broad overview of the scope of each of the descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act 2006 ('the Charities Act') and the sorts of charitable activity that might fall within each one.
2. All purposes recognised as charitable, under English and Welsh law before the passing of the Charities Act, continue to be charitable under the Charities Act.
3. To be a charity an organisation must have purposes all of which are exclusively charitable; a charity cannot have some purposes which are charitable and others which are not. The Charities Act defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within the list of thirteen descriptions of purposes contained in the Charities Act and is for the public benefit. Public benefit is the legal requirement that all charities must have charitable purposes which are for the public benefit. The nature of the benefit provided to the public may look very different depending on what the charity is set up to achieve. Our guidance Charities and Public Benefit explains what the public benefit requirement means and explains public benefit assessment of, and reporting by, charities.
4. Previously, organisations that relieve poverty, or advance education or religion were presumed to have purposes that were for the public benefit. The Charities Act removed that presumption. Although the presumption had always been capable of being challenged, the effect of its removal is that the public benefit of the purposes (or aims) of all charities has to be demonstrated and cannot be assumed.
5. The Charities Act sets out the following descriptions of purposes:
a) the prevention or relief of poverty;
b) the advancement of education;
c) the advancement of religion;
d) the advancement of health or the saving of lives;
e) the advancement of citizenship or community development;
f) the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science;
g) the advancement of amateur sport;
h) the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity;
i) the advancement of environmental protection or improvement;
j) the relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage;
k) the advancement of animal welfare;
l) the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown or of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services;
m) other purposes currently recognised as charitable and any new charitable purposes which are similar to another charitable purpose.
6. In the past, the courts have tended to define 'poverty' by reference to financial hardship or lack of material things but, in current social and economic circumstances, poverty includes many disadvantages and difficulties arising from, or which cause, the lack of financial or material resources.
7. There can be no absolute definition of what 'poverty' might mean since the problems giving rise to poverty are multi-dimensional and cumulative. It can affect individuals and whole communities. It might be experienced on a long or short-term basis.
8. Poverty can both create, and be created by, adverse social conditions, such as poor health and nutrition, and low achievement in education and other areas of human development.
9. The prevention or relief of poverty is not just about giving financial assistance to people who lack money; poverty is a more complex issue that is dependent upon the social and economic circumstances in which it arises. We recognise that many charities that are concerned with preventing or relieving poverty will do so by addressing both the causes (prevention) and the consequences (relief) of poverty.
10. Not everyone who is in financial hardship is necessarily poor, but it may still be charitable to relieve their financial hardship under the description of charitable purpose relating to 'the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage'.
11. In most cases, we will treat the relief of poverty and the relief of financial hardship the same. Generally speaking, it is likely to be charitable to relieve either the poverty or the financial hardship of anyone who does not have the resources to provide themselves, either on a short or long-term basis, with the normal things of life which most people take for granted.
12. Examples of ways in which charities might relieve poverty include:
13. The provision of money management and debt counselling advice are examples of the ways in which charities might help prevent poverty.
14. For full details see our guidance The Prevention or Relief of Poverty for the Public Benefit.
15. Charity law gives a wide meaning to education and does not limit it to education in a classroom environment.
16. To be a charitable aim for the public benefit, education must be capable of being 'advanced'. This means to promote, sustain and increase individual and collective knowledge and understanding of specific areas of study, skills and expertise.
17. Today, education includes:
18. The types of charities that are capable of advancing education include;
19. For full details see our guidance The Advancement of Education for the Public Benefit.
20. For the purposes of charity law, a religion is a system of belief that has certain characteristics that have been identified in case law and clarified in the Charities Act 2006. Section 2(3) of the Charities Act states that:
21. The intention of the legislation was to make clear that religions that involve belief in more than one god and those that do not involve a belief in a god are included within the meaning of religion derived from existing case law.
22. When considering whether or not a system of belief constitutes a religion for the purposes of charity law, the courts have identified certain characteristics which describe a religious belief. These characteristics include:
23. Examples of ways in which charities can advance religion include:
24. For further details see The Advancement of Religion and Public Benefit.
25. The advancement of health includes the prevention or relief of sickness, disease or human suffering, as well as the promotion of health. It includes conventional methods as well as complementary, alternative or holistic methods which are concerned with healing mind, body and spirit in the alleviation of symptoms and the cure of illness. To be charitable there needs to be sufficient evidence of the efficacy of the method to be used. Assessing the efficacy of different therapies will depend upon what benefits are claimed for it (i.e. whether it is diagnostic, curative, therapeutic and/or palliative) and whether it is offered as a complement to conventional medicine or as an alternative. Each case is considered on its merits but the House of Lords Report 1 on complementary and alternative medicine provides a useful guide.
26. The relief of sickness extends beyond the treatment or provision of care, such as a hospital, to the provision of items, services and facilities to ease the suffering or assist the recovery of people who are sick, convalescent, disabled or infirm or to provide comforts for patients.
27. The saving of lives includes a range of charitable activity directed towards saving people whose lives are in danger and protecting life and property.
28. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
29. The advancement of citizenship or community development covers a broad group of charitable purposes directed towards support for social and community infrastructure which is focused on the community rather than the individual.
30. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
31. 'Culture' is a broad term often used in the context of advancing art or heritage.
32. The advancement of art covers a wide range of charitable activity including promoting various forms of art at a national/professional and local/amateur level, the provision of arts facilities and encouraging high standards of art. 'Art' includes abstract, conceptual and performance art and representational and figurative art. Charities concerned with the advancement of art, whether visual arts or the performing arts such as music, dance and theatre, need to satisfy a criterion of merit, details of which can be found in our separate publication Museums and Art Galleries (RR10).
33. 'Heritage' might be regarded as part of a country's local or national history and traditions which are passed down through successive generations. Advancing heritage includes charities for the preservation of historic land and buildings. Guidance on this can be found in our separate publication Preservation and Conservation (RR9). It might also include activities concerned with preserving or maintaining a particular tradition where the benefit to the public in preserving it can be shown.
34. The advancement of science includes scientific research and charities connected with various learned societies and institutions.
35. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
36. The advancement of amateur sport means the advancement of any sports or games which promote health by involving physical or mental skill or exertion and which are undertaken on an amateur basis. Our published guidance on Charitable Status and Sport is currently being revised to reflect the definition of sport in the Charities Act.
37. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
38. Some community amateur sports clubs are registered sports clubs, which means they are clubs that are registered with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) under Schedule 18 to the Finance Act 2002 (c.23) (relief for community amateur sports club). Community amateur sports clubs (CASCs) registered with HMRC benefit from a range of tax reliefs, including Gift Aid. Further information about CASCs can be found at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/casc/. The Charities Act provides that an organisation that is registered with HMRC as a CASC which is set up for charitable purposes is to be treated as not being set up for charitable purposes and accordingly cannot be a charity. This means that an organisation advancing amateur sport can be registered as a charity, or registered as a CASC, but it cannot be registered as both.
39. Guidance on the various ways in which a charity may promote human rights can be found in our separate publication The Promotion of Human Rights (RR12). That guidance clarifies the extent to which charities can promote human rights in countries whose domestic law provides little or no protection for such rights.
40. The advancement of conflict resolution or reconciliation includes the resolution of international conflicts and relieving the suffering, poverty and distress arising through conflict on a national or international scale by identifying the causes of the conflict and seeking to resolve such conflict. It includes the promotion of restorative justice, where all the parties with a stake in a particular conflict or offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with its aftermath and its implications for the future. It also includes purposes directed towards mediation, conciliation or reconciliation as between persons, organisations, authorities or groups involved or likely to become involved in dispute or inter-personal conflict.
41. The promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity includes a range of charitable activity directed towards actively promoting harmony and the lessening of conflict between people from differing races or religions or belief systems and eliminating discrimination and promoting diversity in society.
42. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
43. The advancement of environmental protection and improvement includes preservation and conservation of the natural environment and the promotion of sustainable development. Conservation of the environment includes the conservation of a particular animal, bird, or other species or 'wildlife' in general; a specific plant species, habitat or area of land, including areas of natural beauty and scientific interest; flora, fauna and the environment generally. Charities concerned with environmental protection or improvement may need to produce independent expert evidence, that is authoritative and objective, to show that the particular species, land or habitat to be conserved is worthy of conservation. Further guidance on this can be found in our separate publication Preservation and Conservation (RR9).
44. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
45. There are a variety of charitable purposes which are directed towards the relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial or other disadvantage. This includes relief given by the provision of accommodation and care to such persons.
46. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
47. The advancement of animal welfare includes any purpose directed towards the prevention or suppression of cruelty to animals or the prevention or relief of suffering by animals.
48. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
49. The armed forces exist for public defence and security. It is charitable to promote the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown as a means of defending the country. That includes ensuring that those forces are properly trained and equipped during times of conflict. It also includes providing facilities and benefits for the armed forces. Similarly it is also charitable to promote the efficiency of the police, fire, rescue or ambulance services as they exist for the prevention and detection of crime, the preservation of public order and to protect the public. ('Fire and rescue services' means services provided by fire and rescue authorities under Part 2 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 (C.21)).
50. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
51. This includes any charitable purpose not covered by the other descriptions of purposes and any new charitable purposes that may be recognised in the future as being similar to another charitable purpose.
52. Examples of the sorts of charities and charitable purposes falling within this description include:
53. Charitable purposes have been extended and developed by decisions of the courts and the Charity Commission over the years by comparison with purposes originally held to be charitable. This development of the law reflects changes in social conditions. The process continues today. Further guidance on this can be found in our separate publication Recognising New Charitable Purposes (RR1a).
1 6th Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Session 1999-2000
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