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01 September 2011

Charity guidance on restricting benefit

Charity guidance on restricting benefit

On the 31 August the Charity Commission published guidance for charities which clarifies the relationship between the Charities Act (2006) and the Equality Act (2010). It focuses on the important and complex area of when and in what circumstances a charity can legitimately restrict who can benefit from their services.

Religious charities may well be affected by these guidelines and it is essential that all Christian charitable bodies and trustees study the guidelines carefully. They can be accessed and downloaded from the Charity Commission's website.

Don Horrocks, the Evangelical Alliance's head of public affairs, commented: "We have been discussing these proposed guidelines with the Charity Commission for almost a year and we are satisfied that few unreasonable extra burdens are likely to be placed on religious charities as a result. While the Commission appears to have taken on board several of our concerns and the guidelines are a useful brief summary of the law, it needs to be borne in mind, however, that the law in this area is complex and it can be easy for the unwary to transgress.

"Christian charities in particular - both new and existing - will need to be very aware of what they can and cannot do. Government sources have assured us separately that 'In practice, any organisation which satisfies the Charity Commission's public benefit test would be likely to satisfy the justification element of the test in the new [Equality] Act. Therefore, while the terms of the charities exception in the new [Equality] Act are different from those in the previous legislation, we do not envisage that this would have a great deal of practical impact for your members.' Nevertheless, we urge Alliance members in particular to exercise ongoing caution and should seek legal advice if in any doubt."

Dr Horrocks added: "There are a number of important practical considerations resulting from this guidance. We expect to produce an article considering some of these in a forthcoming edition of PQ."

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