What makes a charity (CC4)

This guide outlines what the law in England and Wales says a charity is.

Applies to England and Wales


What makes a charity (CC4)

Flowchart: how the law decides what is a charitable purpose

Beth sy'n gwneud elusen

Legal analysis: public benefit


In England and Wales, a charity is an organisation that is:

  • established for charitable purposes only, and
  • subject to the High Court’s charity law jurisdiction

Purposes are what your charity is set up to achieve - they are explained in your governing document. To be charitable, your charity’s purposes must:

  • fall within the descriptions of purposes
  • be for the public benefit

This guidance explains what you need to think about when setting up a charity. It can also be used if you are already a charity and want to change your purposes.

Published 1 September 2013
  1. Step 1 Check if setting up a charity is right for you

  2. and Check you're eligible

  3. Step 2 Find trustees

    Trustees are responsible for the operation of your charity. They must show they understand their legal requirements.

    1. Check who's eligible to be a trustee and what skills they need to have
    2. Find and appoint trustees
    3. Read about your trustees' legal responsibilities
  4. Step 3 Find out how to choose a charity structure

  5. and Choose a name for your charity

    There are rules on what words you can use in your name.

    1. Check what you can call your charity

    You cannot register a name that's the same as or similar to another charity.

    1. Check the names of registered charities
  6. and Decide and write your charity's purposes

    Your ‘purposes’ describe what your charity is set up to achieve.

    1. Find out how to write your charity's purposes
  7. Step 4 Create a governing document

    The governing document is a set of rules that explains how your charity is run. It needs to include your charity's structure, name and purposes.

    1. Find out how to write your governing document
  8. Step 5 Make sure you meet the 'public benefit requirement'

    Your organisation must be able to show that it benefits the public.

    1. Check how your organisation must benefit the public
  9. Step 6 Register your charity

    You must apply to register your charity with the Charity Commission if either:

    • its income will be at least £5,000 per year
    • it’s a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO)
    1. Register with the Charity Commission

    You can register your charity’s details with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to get tax back on things like Gift Aid donations.

    1. Register with HMRC