How to apply for charitable status

Charities working in Northern Ireland must follow a number of legal requirements. 

These are set out in the Charities Act (NI) 2008 (the Act) (as amended by the Charities Act (NI) 2013).

The five main types of activity that are considered charitable are:

  • the advancement of education
  • the promotion of religion
  • the relief of poverty
  • other purposes beneficial to the community
  • the provision of sports and leisure activities

Charities working in Northern Ireland must follow a number of legal requirements.

These are set out in the Charities Act (NI) 2008 (the Act) (as amended by the Charities Act (NI) 2013). 

The Act allowed for the creation of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland in 2009.

The Commission has various powers including those of investigation and enforcement. The Charity Commission established the Register of Charities in December 2013.

It is calling on all charitable organisations to register with it.

Not all the provisions of the Act have been introduced. For example: the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) legal structure is not available yet. This is unlikely to happen for some time.

New rules for public collections and control of fundraising are also not in place yet. They are not likely to be included in the Commission's strategic agenda for the next three years. 

All charities in Northern Ireland must apply for registration.

This is irrespective of:

  • their size, annual income or
  • whether they are registered with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for charitable tax purposes.

Some organisations may not have thought of themselves as charities before.

Your organisation must apply for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland if it:

  • is an independent body, which has control over its governance and resources, and
  • has only charitable purposes, and
  • is governed by the law of Northern Ireland

There are no exceptions or exemptions to applying for registration as a charity. This is important to ensure:

  • public trust and confidence
  • that all charities are regulated

Registration is compulsory if your organisation meets the legal definition of a charity.

If you fail to apply to register, or supply us with the required documents and information, it is a breach of trustee duties under the Charities Act.

This may result in legal action.

There are benefits to being included in the register of charities. 

The register of charities:

  • is accessible to the public
  • is a tool to find out more information on charities in Northern Ireland
  • increases transparency and 
  • enhances public trust and confidence in charities

Some examples of benefits include:

  • meeting your statutory obligation to register
  • access to funding streams only available to registered charities
  • Increased public trust and confidence
    • potentially leading to increased public donations or other support 
  • the ability to retain charitable tax relief from HMRC
  • having a Northern Ireland charity number 
    • this indicates that your organisation has been through a robust process to determine its charitable status
  • visible presence on the register of charities
  • decision makers having greater knowledge of the charitable sector in Northern Ireland
    • potentially influencing policy making 

The trustees of a Northern Ireland charity must register it with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (the Commission). 

Read more about the:

The Commission has produced guidance to help organisations make their registration application. The guidance provides the information that organisations need to complete their registration application. 

You can read more about:

Registration with the Commission is different from registration with HMRC for charitable tax exemptions. Even if you have an HMRC tax number, you must still apply for registration with the Commission. 

Failure to do so is a breach of trustees’ duties under the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008. HMRC and the Commission will work together regarding organisations seeking charitable tax exemptions.

Applying for registration as a charity should not be a daunting process. The information required is information that charities should already be keeping.

There is no fee to register as a charity in Northern Ireland. 

The Commission has also produced guidance on:

Starting a new charity

This sets out the legal requirements and best practices for anyone thinking of seeing up a charity.

Read more about how to:

Running your charity

This deals with day-to-day issues such as the duties of a charity trustee, safeguarding, trading, and fundraising.

Read more about:

Annual reporting by registered charities

This can be found in the Annual reporting section of the Commission’s website.

Read more about:

All charitable organisations must complete an expression of intent for charity registration.

This includes those recognised as charities by HMRC who do not appear on their 'deemed list'. This allows the Commission to put them on its 'combined list'. 

You can register an:

The Commission will contact organisations from the ‘combined list’ to register them. If your charity is already on the combined list then you do not need to complete the expression of intent form.

It is not known how long this process will take. However, it could take several years before the Commission contacts an organisation. It may take a further 3 months for the Commission to assess an application, once submitted.

If you are in urgent need of charitable status then let the Commission know. You can show this in the special circumstances box on the expression of intent form.

Read more about the 

Charity Commission guidance gives detailed information about the online registration process. It also advises on preparing for registration.

It has also devised an online tutorial on how to complete the online application.

Read more about:

When registered as a charity with the Commission, you can then apply for charitable tax exemptions with HMRC.

To submit an application you will need to have produced a governing document written in charitable form.

This should include:

  • constitution
  • trust deed
  • memorandum and articles of association 

NICVA’s governance and charity advice service can help you to draft a suitable governing document for a small fee.

Read more from NICVA on: