Charity Commission for England and Wales

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Charity Commission for
England and Wales
Welsh: Comisiwn Elusennau Cymru a Lloegr
Non-ministerial government department overview
Formed1853 (1853)
JurisdictionEngland and Wales
HeadquartersPetty France, London
Annual budget£32.35 million (2022–23)[1]
Non-ministerial government department executives
  • Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive Officer
  • Orlando Fraser, Chair

The Charity Commission for England and Wales is a non-ministerial department of His Majesty's Government that regulates registered charities in England and Wales and maintains the Central Register of Charities. Its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland are the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

Orlando Fraser succeeded interim chair, Ian Karet, who succeeded Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

The commission has four sites in London, Taunton, Liverpool and Newport. Its website lists the latest accounts submitted by charities in England and Wales.

During the financial year 2022-23, the Commission regulated £88 billion of charity income and £85 billion of charity spend.[2]

Charity status


To establish a charity, an organization must first find at least 3 trustees whom will be responsible for the general control and management of the administration of the charity.[3] The organization needs to have a charitable purpose that helps the public. Afterwards, the administration must select an official name and decide on a structure for the charity that will impact aspect such as who runs the charity and how does the charity is run.[4] Subsequently, the creation of a governing document that explain how the charity is run is required.[5] Finally, an electronic application must be completed if the charity’s income is at £5,000 per year, or it’s a charitable incorporated organization (CIO). There are different rules for creating a charity in Scotland and Northern Ireland.[6]

Exempt, excepted, and other non-registered charities

Some charities are not subject to regulation by or registration with the Charity Commission, because they are already regulated by another body, and are known as exempt charities. Most exempt charities are listed in Schedule 3 to the Charities Act 2011, but some charities are made exempt by other acts. However exempt charities must still comply with charity law and may approach the Charity Commission for advice.

Some charities are 'excepted' from charity registration. This means they do not have to register or submit annual returns, but are in all other respects subject to regulation by the Charity Commission. A charity is excepted if its income is £100,000 or less and it is in one of the following groups: churches and chapels belonging to certain Christian denominations (until 2031); charities that provide premises for some types of schools; Scout and Guide groups; charitable service funds of the armed forces; and students' unions.[7]


Charities operating across other national borders within the United Kingdom

Registration of a charity in England and Wales does not endow that status elsewhere, thus further registration has to be made before operating in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Charities in Scotland are regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

In Northern Ireland the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland was established in 2009 to replace earlier regulation by the Voluntary and Community Unit of the Department for Social Development, part of the Northern Ireland Executive.


Establishing Law

The Charities Act 2006 requires the Commission to be operationally independent of ministerial influence or control. Members of the commission, including the chair, are appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.[8]

Charity Tax Law

The Finance Act 2010 extended charitable tax benefits (for example Gift Aid) to charities within EU member states, Norway and Iceland, rather than those just inside the UK.[9]

Fundraising Regulator

In 2016, following the Olive Cooke scandal, the British fundraising regulatory landscape underwent a review, leading to the establishment of the Fundraising Regulator. The Fundraising Regulator is an independent oversight body without statutory authority. It serves as the regulatory authority for charitable fundraising, responsible for defining and promoting fundraising standards. Additionally, it investigates cases, addresses public complaints related to fundraising practices, and operates a fundraising preference service. This service allows the public to control how charities contact them.[10]

Regulatory action

The commission carries out general monitoring of charities as part of its regular casework. In serious cases of abuse and regulatory concern, the commission has powers outlined in the Charities Acts to conduct statutory investigations. Before taking the decision to open a statutory inquiry, it will take the approach set out in its Regulatory and Risk framework.[11][12] The commission, therefore, began around 2007 to carry out an intermediate form of action described as regulatory compliance investigations. In 2010 it opened over 140 of these cases, compared to just three full statutory investigations. However, the legality of these actions was debatable as they lacked a statutory basis. A high-profile example was the commission's report into The Atlantic Bridge, after which that body was dissolved in September 2011. The commission announced in October 2011, in the context of cost-cutting and a re-focussing of its activities, that it would no longer carry out regulatory compliance investigations.[13][14]

In 2012, the Commission refused to grant charitable status to Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, stating that it was unclear whether the body's aims were compatible with the requirement for charities to have a public benefit. The Commission stated that this was called into doubt as a result of the "exclusivity" of the body.[15] The decision was discussed at a session of the Public Accounts Committee, during which MP Charlie Elphicke accused the Commission of being "committed to the suppression of religion". The decision was later reversed by the Commission.[16]

Between 2022-23, the Commission removed 4,146 charities from the register and concluded 5,726 regulatory action cases (includes 68 statutory inquiries).[2]


Prior to the 1840s, a body of commissioners had been established by the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 (43 Eliz. 1. c. 4), but these proved ineffective. The Charity Commission was first established by the Charitable Trusts Act 1853. There had been several attempts at reforming charities before that which had been opposed by various interest groups including the church, the courts, the companies, and the universities.[17] The power of the commission was strengthened by amendments to the act in 1855, 1860, and 1862.[18]

The Charity Commission was substantially reconstituted by the Charities Act 1960 (8 & 9 Eliz. 2. c. 58), which replaced the Charitable Trusts Acts (1853-1891). This introduced new duties to determine charitable status, and to maintain a public register of charities.[19]

The commission was criticised after the Aberfan disaster in 1966 for its intransigence and decisions on what it allowed money from the disaster fund to be spent on. It sanctioned the use of £150,000 to remove remaining spoil tips from the area after the National Coal Board refused to pay for the work. It also proposed asking parents 'exactly how close were you to your child?'; those found not to have been close to their children would not be compensated.[20]

The Charities Act 2006 established its current structure and name.[21] As of 31 March 2015 the commission had 288 employees and 19 agency staff in post.[22]

The Olive Cooke case, involving a 92-year-old poppy seller who allegedly committed suicide due to overwhelming requests for donations from charities, sparked widespread public fear and media attention across England and Wales.[23] This scandal prompted a review of the self-regulation of fundraising practices in England and Wales, as well as Scotland, subsequently leading to the introduction of self-regulatory reforms in both jurisdictions.[10]

In 2021, The Guardian reported that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden "had instructed officials to ensure candidates for the Charity Commission chair role were "tested" on how they would use the watchdog's powers to rebalance charities by "refocusing" them on their founding missions", in response to what he described as "a worrying trend in some charities that appear to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials."[24]

Orlando Fraser was appointed as Chair of the Charity Commission by the Secretary of State on a three-year term commencing from 25 April 2022.[25] This appointment was not without controversy, including the refusal of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee to endorse the appointment.[26]

Chairs of the commission

Chief Charity Commissioner

Prior to restructuring in 2006, the equivalent of the Chair was the Chief Charity Commissioner.

Chair of the Charity Commission

From 2006 the role of Chief Charity Commissioner was replaced with those of Chair and Chief Executive of the Charity Commission

See also


  1. ^ "Annual Report 2022–2023". Charity Commission for England and Wales. Retrieved 10 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Charity Commission Annual Report 2022-23" (PDF). Charities Commission.
  3. ^ "Finding new trustees". Charity Commission.
  4. ^ "Set up a charity: Structures". Charity Commission.
  5. ^ "Set up a charity: Governing document". Charity Commission.
  6. ^ "Set up a Charity". Charity Commission.
  7. ^ "Excepted charities".
  8. ^ "Governance framework". GOV.UK. Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  9. ^ "The charities' guide to the Finance Act 2010". Sift Media. 26 July 2010. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  10. ^ a b B. Breen, Oonagh; Dunn, Alison; Sidel, Mark (2019). "Riding the Regulatory Wave: Reflections on Recent Explorations of the Statutory and Nonstatutory Nonprofit Regulatory Cycles in 16 Jurisdictions". Sage. 48 (4).
  11. ^ "Statutory inquiries into charities: guidance for charities".
  12. ^ "Regulatory and Risk Framework".
  13. ^ Mason, Tania (17 October 2011). "Commission to scrap regulatory compliance cases". Civil Society. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  14. ^ Mason, Tania (20 October 2011). "Atlantic Bridge-style investigations were unlawful, say charity lawyers". Civil Society. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  15. ^ Gray, James (3 January 2013). "Christian group makes legal appeal for charity status". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  16. ^ "Charity Commission criticised for action on Plymouth Brethren case". Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  17. ^ "Charity Commission 1853-1960". The National Archives.
  18. ^ Peter R. Elson (May 2010). "The Origin of the Species: Why Charity Regulations in Canada and England Continue to Reflect Their Origins". The International Journal of Not-for-Profit law.
  19. ^ "Charity Commission since 1960". The National Archives. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  20. ^ Jackson, Ceri. "Aberfan: The mistake that cost a village its children". BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  21. ^ "Charity Commission, A Hampton Implementation Review Report". Department for Business Innovation and Skills. March 2010. Archived from the original on 17 May 2011.
  22. ^ Charity Commission Annual Report 2014−2015 (PDF), Charity Commission for England and Wales, retrieved 8 March 2016
  23. ^ "Poppy seller who killed herself got 3,000 charity requests for donations a year". The Guardian.
  24. ^ Butler, Patrick (18 September 2021). "Legal challenge launched over 'anti-woke' agenda of Charity Commission". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  25. ^ "Orlando Fraser is confirmed as the new Charity Commission Chair". GOV.UK. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  26. ^ Parliament, UK (27 April 2022). "Committee do not formally endorse choice of Charity Commission Chair". UK Parliament | Committees | Digital, Culture, Media & Sports. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  27. ^ "No. 27171". The London Gazette. 6 March 1900. p. 1522.
  28. ^ "Ian Karet extended as Interim Chair of the Charity Commission". GOV.UK. Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  29. ^ "Orlando Fraser is confirmed as the new Charity Commission Chair". 1 April 2022. Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  30. ^ "Committee do not formally endorse choice of Charity Commission Chair - Committees - UK Parliament". UK Parliament. 31 March 2022. Archived from the original on 1 January 2023. Retrieved 1 January 2023.