Charities Frequently Asked Questions
To find out anything at all about charities, type in Charity Commission into a search engine, then select the GOV.UK website. The address is actually https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/charity-commission, but this may change and in any case it’s difficult to remember such a long address.
All the information you need is likely to be in the short list at the top of the home page.
HOW DO WE SET UP A NEW CHARITABLE ORGANISATION?
To set up a new charity: click on “Set up and register a charity”. Read the relevant pages, then follow instructions. A charity can only be registered if:
- It is a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation), in which case you must register to exist, or
- It has income of over £5,000 per year.
If you are a brand new group you probably can’t register immediately, but that doesn’t stop you raising funds through fundraising events, by inviting donations, through crowd funding or through grant applications – there are a few places which don’t need you to be a registered charity, such as Awards for All (Big Lottery), or local councils. Once you’ve learned the process through those applications, you may have enough to register as a charity and move on to larger projects.
HOW DO WE MAKE ANNUAL RETURNS ONLINE?
A charity needs to make annual returns to a range of organisations: HMRC (which your accounts advisor will tell you about), Companies House if you are also a registered company, and the Charity Commission. If you do not make these returns each year, HMRC will take action, Companies House will fine you, and the Charity Commission will cease your registration as a charity and may mount an investigation.
Your charity must submit an annual return if its income is over £10,000.
If your charity’s income is under £10,000, you must still keep your registered details up to date, eg income, expenditure, trustees and contact details.
It is not difficult to make the report online. To send your charity’s annual return to the Charity Commission, click on that option in the list on the front page. Read all the instructions before you begin. Make sure you have your Annual Report (which you should have prepared for your Annual General Meeting to report back to your members) and your Annual Accounts in electronic form – you will need to submit the accounts as a pdf which you upload to the website.
WHAT NEEDS DOING WHEN WE MAKE CHANGES IN OUR CHARITY?
If you appoint a new trustee, or if the main contact changes you MUST tell the Charity Commission about it. It is important to keep your information up to date, because they can’t send you information or demands for reports if they don’t have your correct contact details.
There is lots of information on the Charity Commission website – advice for trustees, alerts and consultations, reports on investigations, publications and advice for the general public.
Do use this resource – there is no funding available now for organisations like Voluntary Action North Lincolnshire to provide advice, so the Charity Commission is your primary source of advice. They also are short of funding to pay for staff, so their service is all online. This has the advantage that you can consult them at any time of day or night, and you can keep going back until you find the answer you need. VANL will still be able to advise, but the service may be charged for.