The body responsible for regulating charities is claiming more authority than the law allows, says a legal expert.
Recent guidance from the Charity Commission has prompted concerns about the way various groups, including Christian organisations, will have their charitable status assessed.
But the 2006 Charities Act did not change the definition of a charity or the need to demonstrate public benefit, says Nicola Evans, Senior Associate at Bircham Dyson Bell.
Instead of making this clear, she argues, the Commission’s new guidance has created confusion about what groups will have to do to be recognised as charities.
Writing in Third Sector Magazine she says the Commission is also claiming too much authority for assessing charities on their benefit to the public.
“The Commission states that its assessment decisions are final and not subject to appeal”, Nicola Evans points out.
“The assessment reports require action by trustees, but fail to identify the authority for this requirement.”
She says: “Trustees are left in confusion, unsure whether they should spend charity funds trying to pass the regulator’s test and unclear what would be sufficient to do so.”
When the Commission issued a draft version of its new guidance for religious charities, there were fears that groups engaged in evangelism and other Christian activities could face problems in claiming charitable status.
Many of the most worrying points were removed from the final version of the guidance, but some concerns remain.
Last month the Commission said the Church Mission Society had passed its charitable status test, confirming that evangelistic activity conveys public benefit.