In 2006, Parliament passed new legislation for charities which, amongst other provisions, gave fresh emphasis to the requirement for all charities’ aims to be, demonstrably, for the public benefit. It is in both our interests, as the regulator of charities in England and Wales, and the interests of the charities that we regulate, that our approach to public benefit maintains and, if possible, increases the public’s trust and confidence in charities.
Our approach to assessing public benefit comes from the statutory objective set for us by Parliament in the Charities Act 2006, 'To promote awareness and understanding of the operation of the public benefit requirement', and our corresponding duty to produce statutory guidance to help fulfil this objective.
We believe that the statutory objective and the requirement to issue guidance, together with our responsibilities as regulator, mean that we have an obligation to set out a coherent set of principles on public benefit derived from our interpretation of the underlying case law which already exists.
We interpret this case law in the context of modern circumstances, taking into consideration the new framework for charitable status set out in the Act, the existing case law, and the fact that the presumption of public benefit for some types of charities has been removed.
We also consider the impact of the Human Rights Act, which requires fair and equal treatment of the application of the public benefit principles to different types of charity, and that any differences in treatment are necessary, proportionate and legitimate.
Our role is to bring all these elements together and, where necessary, interpret the law to deal with areas that lack clarity. Our interpretation of our new responsibilities is underpinned by our general guidance on the principles of public benefit which we published on our website at the start of 2008.
We will be transparent about the basis on which we take decisions about public benefit and proportionate in the actions we take. Where our decisions affect whether a charity remains as a charity, or indeed whether the way in which it operates is for the public benefit, the charity, or anyone affected by our decision, who disagrees with the regulatory action that we take, can challenge that action with the Charity Tribunal or the Courts where appropriate.
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