Ireland: The Charities Regulatory Authority - An Update

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
Article by Aoife Murphy

BACKGROUND

The Charities Regulatory Authority ("CRA") was established on the 16th October 2014.

At the time the CRA highlighted the establishment and maintenance of a register of charities and the roll out of financial and reporting obligations for charities as it's immediate priorities.

In this note we will look to see what progress has been made 6 months on.

REGISTER OF CHARITIES

Since the commencement of the Charities Act 2009 in October last year all charities operating within the State must, except in a limited number of cases, apply to the CRA to be registered in the Register of Charities.

Charities holding a valid CHY number on the 15th of October 2014 were automatically registered in the Register of Charities.

All other charities had initially until 16 April 2015 to apply to the CRA to register.

It has now been announced that only around 200 of more than 4,000 charities required to register with the CRA have done so leading the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to announce a 12 month extension of the registration deadline.

Any charity, which is not already on, or in the process applying to go on, the Register of Charities should visit the CRA website at www.charitiesregulatory.ie where details of the registration process can be found.

To begin the registration process the charity needs to apply for an account with the CRA. The CRA will then send the charity a letter which will allow the charity to create an online account through which the charity can apply to be registered.

A charity which is required to apply to go on the Register and which fails to do so within the prescribed time limit will be guilty of an offence, as will be the trustees of the charity, if it continues to carry on activities in the State.

As charities will have effectively been given 18 months to register with the CRA it is unlikely that a further extension will be provided so charities should take steps sooner rather than later to engage in the registration process to avoid the possible imposition of penalties in the future.

FINANCIAL AND ANNUAL ACTIVITY REPORTS

The other main priority of the CRA is the roll out of the financial and annual activity reports which charities are obliged to prepare under the Charities Act 2009.

A charity is obliged, subject to certain exceptions, to prepare an annual statement of accounts. The form and information to be contained therein is to be specified by the CRA and may vary depending on the level of income or expenditure of the charity.

In certain cases the accounts must be audited or examined by an independent person approved by the CRA no later than 9 months after the end of the financial year concerned if the charity's income exceeds a certain level. The level of income is not specified in the Charities Act 2009 and will be contained in regulations to be published by the Minister for Justice but it cannot be set higher than €500,000. Writing recently in the Irish Tax Review Sandra Chambers, who is a board member of the CRA advises that the CRA is applying an administrative threshold of €100,000.

On registration, every charity will be issued with an annual return date so that they know when they need to file an annual report with the CRA. The Charities Act 2009 provides for the Minister for Justice and Equality to make regulations setting the format and content of the annual reports that charities are required to make to the CRA. These regulations have not yet been made.

The CRA hopes to publish a consultative document on the content of the annual return before summer 2015. In the meantime the CRA has specified that annual returns will contain:

  • An online return, to be completed by the charity directly,
  • A copy of the charity's annual report if prepared under any other regulatory requirement, this would include charities which are companies having to provide a copy of the annual return it files with the CRO,
  • A copy of the charity's annual statement of accounts, unless the charity has a financial reporting exemption, and
  • A copy of the auditor's report, if the charity's income was above €100,000 per annum.

CONCLUSION

Given that it took over 5 years to bring the Charities Act into force a 6 month registration deadline was always an ambitious one. At the same time given all of negative publicity surrounding certain charities in only the recent past the level of take up is disappointing.

Further consultation on the make-up of the annual return is welcome. Charites which are companies will hope that the CRA will use the information they must already provide to the CRO on an annual basis, to streamline this process much in the same way as it used the CHY database to speed up the registration process.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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