New Charities Act in Northern Ireland

A new piece of legislation, The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 is about to come into force. The new law will effectively reinstate the full Register of Charities and give certainty to charities, the public, funders and others as to which organisations are registered. It will increase public transparency of the charity sector enabling the public to undertake checks on the charities they support.  The Charity Commission Northern Ireland (“CCNI”) is encouraging charities to update contact details on the current register so they can communicate changes brought in by the new Act.

Madam Justice McBride’s High Court Judgment of May 2019 found that the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008, taken together with section 19 of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, did not provide express or implied power for the CCNI to delegate its functions to staff acting alone. The Court of Appeal then dismissed an appeal by the CCNI against the McBride Judgment rendering over 7000 decisions, orders and directions made by CCNI staff unlawful.

Following the Court of Appeal ruling in February 2020 the registration of charities in Northern Ireland prior to the end of May 2019 are currently considered void. As explained in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum prepared by the Department of Communities in January 2022 in relation to the proposed new Act:

“4. The Bill will amend the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (the Act) with retrospective effect to render lawful previous decisions taken by Commission staff in reliance on unlawful delegation in cases where doing so is consistent with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the decision is not unlawful on other grounds.” 

The 2022 Act will include a section disapplying the requirements imposed by the 2008 Act to prepare accounts, reports and returns for “exempt years” which will be defined in the new Act. 

The next steps

For advice on charity accounts and annual reporting in Northern Ireland, please contact Michael Fitch or Scott McCullough.

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