Churches as charities: some basics

The basic law on the charitable status of religious organisations in England & Wales is something we have not previously addressed. This attempts to remedy that omission: but it’s a very complex issue and comments/corrections would be particularly welcome.


The meaning of “charity”

The legal underpinning of churches’ charitable status In England and Wales is partly the law of trusts and partly the various successive Charities Acts. In the Charities Act 2011:

  • s 1 (Meaning of “charity”) states that “For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, ‘charity‘ means an institution which—

(a) is established for charitable purposes only, and

(b) falls to be subject to the control of the High Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction with respect to charities”.

  • s 3(1)(c) defines “the advancement of religion” as a charitable purpose.

Therefore, an organisation whose objects are exclusively charitable is, in law, a charity and, crucially, charitable status is not dependent on registration with the Charity Commission for England & Wales. If someone (“the settlor”) establishes and endows a trust that has an exclusively charitable purpose, it may be regarded a charity even if it is not clear that the settlor had intended it to be so regarded. (And if the settlor does not wish to set up a charitable trust, s/he had better make sure that the objects of the trust are not exclusively charitable). Continue reading