DIY Charity Commission Registration - How to start and register a UK charity, CIO or charitable company, at no cost, using my guide, videos and infographic, with links to all the guidance and documents you will need.
Most people seem to want to register a charity, but it can be a very time consuming process, there are quite a number of options and, often, registering a charity isn't the best. This toolkit will help you to decide which type of organisation would be best for you.
Equally, if a registered charity is the right choice for you, whilst the vast majority of people opt for a CIO, it's not the only option. To help you decide, watch my video (3 mins) on choosing the right charity structure, which explains the most common options and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Alternatively, I've summarised these in this infographic.
The Commission requires a large amount of information, but it focusses very closely on some issues, which you'll want to get right.
They want to see that you have all necessary processes and controls in place and evidence. Give them the detail needed. If you write one sentence in a box, it probably isn't enough. If someone is an expert in an area, you work with statutory authorities/expert charities, have adopted standards or work to some quality framework, or similar mention that, as it evidences your work. Uploading policies, such as safeguarding and grant making (if applicable) can be helpful.
What the trustees choose to do within their objects is largely up to them, as long as they don't unreasonably exclude people, but you can't do anything outside your objects. Make sure you take into account what you might be doing in a year or 2, when your charity has become a real success. If you don't, you might need Commission approval to amend your objects. Here are some ideas:
You can convert a CIC Limited By Gurantee to a Foundation CIO. You will need a resolution to convert you CIC to a CIO, to adopt the proposed constitution of the CIO and a resolution adopting the proposed constitution of the CIO.
The Commission requires a very large amount of detailed information, so it's a good idea to get everything together before you start.
The system times-out after a period, but doesn't tell you and allows you to keep entering data, which you then lose when you try to save. Done that. If you go for a cup of tea, always save before you do.
Download and complete the relevant governing document. These are long legal documents, but almost everything is standard text. You’ll need to make decisions on a range of issues, such as your charity's name, objects (purposes), trustee types and numbers, the names of the 1st trustees and liability. The options include ex officio and appointed trustees. This is when you give another organisation the right to appoint one or more trustees - very rarely applies, so usually people just delete these sections.
However, the key issue is your objects(s). This is what your charity aims to do and the Commission takes these extremely seriously, so spend time and effort on this. You can have one or more, but these must be exclusively charitable. Fundraising is not a charitable object, so don't include it. The more objects you have, the more complex the information required will be and the greater the opportunity for the Commission to find fault. Don't include activities, such as research, education or health, unless you deliver these in a professional capacity. If you bring in speakers for workshops, signpost people, or similar, using 'Promoting' or 'Raising public awareness' can work better.
Your object(s) should describe the outcomes you are seeking, how you will do this, where and who will benefit. My short video (4 mins) will give you everything you need to do this well and here's the Commission's guidance and some examples.
Check that your charity’s name hasn’t been used by another and is allowable, and you now also have to check this with Companies House. For CIOs, you also need to check with Companies House for sensitive names, including fund, federation, friendly society, and co-operative and anything vaguely Government(ish), regulatory or Royal. If you use a sensitive name, the Commission may require a letter of non-objection; best avoided, unless it's important to you.
There's a check function in the online application form for your name, but it doesn't really work, so best to do it yourself to be sure.
If your name is something that might be trademarked, you may wish to check this here. For example, Golf Charity Cup is trademarked and there are 86 pages of others with 'Charity' in the title.
You will need to upload substantial information about your trustees. Aim for a minimum of 3 and maximum of 12. If you need to recruit trustees, here's how to do it and people who will help you for free.
Complete a trustee declaration, which has to be signed by each trustee. The Commission are incredibly pedantic about this. If you don't fully complete it, they will reject it. That includes not inserting your charity name (exactly as per the constitution) and number of trustees, or if you forget to tick the 'Working with vulnerable groups box'. My video (2 mins) on completing the form, will help you make sure you get it right.
There’s a lot of other specific information required, so read this Q&A before you begin. You will also be asked for information about the specific activities you will be undertaking, such as education, religion, research, sport and human rights.
The Commission publishes guidance on its website. However, the site is notoriously user unfriendly, so you'll need to put a bit of effort in to find what you're looking for. You can find links to most of the publications here.
You will have to upload your governing document (constitution) and trustee declaration. If you have a business plan, brochures or similar, that can help, but make sure these don't include material that conflicts with your application. All uploads have to be in pdf format and no larger than 25MB.
You can also upload policies. I would certainly suggest safeguarding and grant making, if applicable. If you need, but don't have these, ask a sister charity if you could use theirs. Or consult Mr Google.
Uploading relevant policies, can be a very good way to significantly strengthen your application. Take the questions asked, turn these into requirements and include them in the policy. You can further underpin this by including any relevant quality standards or frameworks. For example, my animal welfare policy, includes all of the requirements in the application questions, plus the Animal Welfare Act, and DEFRA and RSPCA welfare standards. Than ticks all the Charity Commission's boxes for them. You can do this with most aspects of your application. When filling in your application, use what's in your policies to answer the questions.
Yuk, you're creating work and turning us into a bureaucracy! Nope. These are minimum standards and any good charity will work to far higher. It just translates what you do into evidence that will keep the Commission happy.
There are 24 screens to complete, but the system will generate additional specialist questions based on your activities. Here are the main sections.
You won't be able to change your application once you've submitted it, so check it over before you do. There's a spell checker (top right), but it's fairly awful. You can also download a copy of your application, using Print (again top right)
On Submission. You'll receive an e mail with a pdf copy of your application. A copy of this will also be emailed to the contact for the organisation and each trustee. Hang onto this, as it contains information you'll need to register with HMRC.
The Commission's Response. Usually within a few weeks, although I have had one application back in a day. However, it can also take much longer. If you receive an e mail advising that your application will need to be considered by a specialist that usually takes a couple of months.
More Questions. Once you get a response you will almost certainly be asked even more questions. The Commission is quick to say what it doesn't like, but not what it does want. If you don't understand it, go back to them saying that and asking them to advise you specifically what it is they want from you. If you submit something to them, it can be helpful to add that, if they don't feel it meets their requirements to register your charity, you'd be grateful for their expert advice on what changes they wish to be made that would.
Don't give up, because you're nearly there. Give them what they ask for and you should receive your registration number.
Say Thank You. Send them a thank you e mail. None of us say thank you nearly often enough.
Ask Them To Reconsider. If they refuse to register you and what they object to can easily be fixed, you might go back to the Registration Officer with a positive response addressing the issues highlighted and asking him/her to reconsider. They usualy say no, but it has worked twice.
Decision Review. If that doesn't work, you have the right to make an application for Decision Review, which goes to the Commission's Litigation team. Address each point they've raised and evidence what you've done. You can use the online submission, but there isn't much space. Use the email instead. I've done it 3 times. Once it was approved, once rejected and won at tribunal, and a current one where I haven't finished with them yet (as at Mar 21). OG376-1 is the Commission's guidance that its staff use for Decision Reviews.
Charity Tribunal. If they still refuse to register you, you have the right to apply to the Charity Tribunal, but make sure you submit within the 42 day deadline This is chaired by an independent judge who has the power to direct the Commission. The tribunal will look at your case afresh, so you need to make the case that you meet the requirements to be registered, but taking into account and responding to the Commission's objections. If the Commission has objected on the basis of the work you do, including precedents where existing charities in the same circumstances are doing the same can be persuasive.
The tribunal is the only point in the process at which the Commission is held accountable by an external agency. We need more people to use the process. It's a job of work, but you don't need to be a lawyer to do it. I'm not and I won against them without any legal help, so it's entirely doable. You can find links to pro bono legal support on the Free Goods & Services page.
Having done all that hard work, make sure you can claim those lovely tax reliefs by registering with HMRC. Last year, the sector failed to claim £600m in Gift Aid alone and that's only one of the many available.
When you're ready, read my Part 3 guide on how to register with HMRC. Here are the charitable tax reliefs you can potentially claim, with links to the resources you'll need and here's my guide to the various types of Gift Aid and how to claim these. To register, you'll need a bank account. if you don't have one, here's my guide to opening a free charity bank account.
For more lots more resources to help you make your charity a success, visit the Resources page and select a topic. However, this is a fraction of the huge range of resources on the Charity Excellence Framework, which include its Funding Finder database and 50 funder lists; everything is free. Register Now.
This article is only for general interest only and does not constitute professional legal advice. I'm not a lawyer, so not able to provide this. If you need professional advice, you can find links to pro bono legal support on the Free Goods & Services page.