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After an extensive drafting process The Charities Act 2009 was enacted in February 2009. Its full effect has yet to be felt however, as the Act is being commenced in stages. To date only a few minor sections have been brought in which have had little impact. Once fully commenced, the Act will herald an abundance of changes in the way charities operate and promote themselves in Ireland.
The purpose of the Act is to promote transparency in relation to charitable organisations, to prevent fraudulent activity by individuals claiming they are representing charities, and to encourage higher levels of accountability in the charitable sector. A higher degree of transparency will ultimately provide more security to members of the public that often donate money to charities. Guidelines in relation to fundraising and how payments are made by the public are dealt with under the Act. Transparency is also encouraged through the Act stating that collectors must display their charities’ names and numbers in clear view.
Minister Alan Shatter has spoken about the establishment of a Charities Regulatory Authority under the Act which would monitor compliance of its members. It would be an obligation for all charities to register with this Authority and would be an offence to use the term ‘charity’ to describe an organisation that is not registered. This would provide the public with further guarantees that they are donating to a genuine charity as represented to them.
The creation of a statutory register containing details of all charities in the state has also been discussed. Activity reports and legal documents would be required for this register, however further discussions need to be held about exactly what level of information the registered charities will need to furnish the Authority with before this occurs.
The Act contains recommended guidelines which some larger charities in the State have begun to follow. This would result in a minor change to their functions once the Act is commenced, however the smaller charities would face much stricter regulation and obligations to an Authority if registered under same. The commencement of the Act would also have serious implications for charities that were formed as trusts as they would have enjoyed a level of secrecy to date that will not continue.
By Emer Murphy, Solicitor
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