All charities (whether registered with the Charity Commission or not) must prepare accounts and make them available on request. All charities must keep accounting records, and prepare annual accounts which must be made available to the public on request
Charities with a gross income of more than £25,000 in their financial year are required to have their accounts independently examined or audited
Keeping accounting records
These records – for example cash books, invoices, receipts, Gift Aid records etc must be retained for at least 6 years (or at least 3 years in the case of charitable companies); where Gift Aid payments are received records will need to be maintained for 6 years with details of any substantial donors and to identify ‘tainted charity donations’ in accordance with HMRC guidance
An independent examination is an external review of a charity’s accounts and is carried out by an independent person with the requisite ability and practical experience to carry out a competent examination
An examination involves a review of the accounting records kept by the charity, and a comparison of the accounts presented with those records. This means that all cash books, bank statements, invoices and receipts must also be made available for checking by the independent examiner
The company must first of all be removed from the Companies Register but only if it:
- hasn’t traded or sold off any stock in the last 3 months
- hasn’t changed names in the last 3 months
- isn’t threatened with liquidation
- has no agreements with creditors, eg a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)
A company can apply to the registrar to be struck off the register and dissolved if it’s no longer needed, for example if:
- the directors wish to retire and there is no one to take over the running of the company
- the company is a subsidiary whose name is no longer needed
- the company was originally set up to exploit an idea that turned out not to be feasible
More details can be found here:
Once the company has been removed from the Companies House Register, it can be removed from the Register of Charities.
A charitable company has an automatic right to expend all of its assets on its purposes.
You can tell the Charity Commission that you have wound it up by completing the closure form. This can be done online – more details can be found here:
A charity must follow any rules in their governing document about who appoints new trustees, when, and how, new trustees are appointed and who can be a trustee – the governing document may impose conditions
Co-opted trustees are found most commonly in unincorporated associations or charitable companies where the charity has a membership. Their appointment is under express provisions in the governing document allowing the trustee body to fill vacancies on an ad hoc basis or to supplement the skills of existing trustees.
Trustees may be appointed in a number of different ways – for example:
- they can be nominated by the other trustees or by another organisation, such as a local authority
- they may be elected by the charity’s members
- they may become a trustee by virtue of a post which they occupy, such as a mayor or mayoress of a town, the chief executive of a local health trust or the head master of a school; such trustees are known as ‘ex officio’ trustees
Other than in the case of ex officio trustees, the appointment of a trustee becomes effective only once a prospective trustee has formally agreed to accept the trusteeship. The trusteeship may then begin immediately, or on a specified date.
Following the appointment of a new trustee, trustees must ensure that the Commission is notified of the appointment as soon as possible
You and your co-trustees must make sure that everything your charity does helps (or is intended to help) to achieve the purposes for which it is set up, and no other purpose. This means you should:
- ensure you understand the charity’s purposes as set out in its governing document
- plan what your charity will do, and what you want it to achieve
- be able to explain how all of the charity’s activities are intended to further or support its purposes
- understand how the charity benefits the public by carrying out its purposes
Spending charity funds on the wrong purposes is a very serious matter; in some cases trustees may have to reimburse the charity personally.
More details can be found here
There may be various reasons for disposing of your charity land. You may, for example, want to relocate the charity to more appropriate premises or release some cash that you can apply to other projects.
Before you start, you and the other trustees must be sure that:
- you have permission to sell or lease the property – either in your governing document or in the law
- there is nothing in your governing document that prevents you selling or leasing the property
- your charity actually owns the title to the property
- the sale or lease is in the charity’s best interests
- if the property is designated for a particular purpose, such as a recreation ground, that the sale or lease doesn’t go against this
It’s usually straightforward to sell or lease charity land and property – most charities don’t need Charity Commission approval. You must try to get the best deal for your charity and follow any rules in the law and your governing document.
More detailed information can be found here
For free property advice, guidance and workshops visit the Ethical Property Foundation
The merger of charities means two or more separate charities coming together to form one organisation. In such cases, either a new charity is formed to carry on the work or take on the assets of the original charities or one charity assumes control of another.
Before you start, decide whether merging is in your charity’s interests. It could be less risky and more efficient to work with another charity more informally. You should read the Charity Commission’s guidance on collaborative working, making mergers succeed and its mergers checklist.
When thinking about a merger, you must make sure that:
- the governing documents of the charities involved allow the merger
- all the charities involved have similar aims
Tips for successful mergers
- The merger should be in the best interests of the charities’ beneficiaries
- The charities involved must be compatible in objects, culture and values
- Effective communication with all stakeholders from the outset is vital – processes and outcomes should be clear to all involved
- The charities’ trustees should be united in believing that the merger is the best way forward
- Identify the key roles and responsibilities in the merger process
- Communicate and negotiate in a way that reflects the interests of all parties
- Contact the Charity Commission at an early stage if advice is needed
Charity law requires those charities with a gross income of more than £25,000 to have some form of external scrutiny of their accounts.
The role of the independent examiner is to provide an independent scrutiny of the accounts. The examiner plays a part in maintaining public trust and confidence in charities
This limited form of check (sometimes referred to as ‘negative assurance’) contrasts with an audit. The examiner is only required to confirm whether any material matters of concern have come to their attention, whilst an auditor is required to provide an opinion on whether a charity’s accounts give a ‘true and fair view’.
An auditor builds up a body of evidence to support a positive statement as to whether the accounts give a ‘true and fair view’. An audit is carried out in accordance with international auditing standards and the audit guidance issued by the Financial Reporting Council.
An Independent Examination is therefore a limited form of scrutiny compared to an audit. It provides less assurance in terms of the depth of work which is to be carried out and is limited as to the matters on which the examiner reports.
An Independent Examination involves a review of the accounting records kept by the charity and a comparison of the accounts presented with those records. It also involves a review of the accounts and the consideration of any unusual items and/or disclosures provided. The examiner must also consider whether any matters of concern have come to the examiner’s attention as a result of the independent examination that should be included in their report to enable a proper understanding of the accounts to be reached.
The trustees may opt for an independent examination provided an audit is not required by charity law. The charity must have an audit for financial years ending on or after 31 March 2015 if either its gross income exceeds £1m or, its gross income exceeds £250,000 and the aggregate value of assets (before deduction of liabilities) exceeds £3.26 million.
If your registered charity’s financial year ended on 31 March 2018, then the deadline for submitting the charity’s accounts/ annual return to the Charity Commissionis 31 January 2019.
The Charity Commission has produced guidance on how to prepare an annual return. You can find that here
For the annual return 2018/2019, you need to be aware that there will be new questions to answer. You can find more information about that here
If you need any further advice, then you can contact our office here
To be a charity your organisation must have charitable purposes only. It cannot have some purposes that are charitable and some that are not (legal requirement)
The Charities Act 2011 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within 13 descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.
There is no automatic presumption that an organisation with a stated aim that falls within one of the descriptions of purposes is charitable. This has to be demonstrated in each case.
Purposes that cannot be charitable purposes
Your organisation’s purpose cannot be a charitable purpose if it does not fall within the descriptions of purposes and is not for the public benefit, including if it is:
- a political purpose
- unlawful or against public policy
- intended to serve a non-charitable purpose
The 13 descriptions and more detailed information can be found here