How to register your charity once it has been set up, what you need before you start your application and what happens after you apply.
When to apply to register your charity
Usually, you must register with the Charity Commission if your charity is based in England or Wales and has over £5,000 income per year. The commission will take action to secure compliance if it identifies a charity which isn’t registered but should be.
If your charity is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) it must register whatever its income.
Only apply to register your charity once it’s set up. This means you have:
- decided what your charity’s purpose is
- decided what type of charity structure it will have
- written a governing document
- chosen a name
- recruited trustees
- decided how your charity will be funded
How to apply to register a charity
Use the Charity Commission’s ‘Apply to register a charity’ service.
Once you start, you’ll get a reference number that allows you to save the form and come back to it at any time within 3 months of starting it.
Charities that don’t have to register
Small unincorporated charities
If your charity is based in England and Wales and isn’t a CIO, you don’t have to apply to register it if its annual income is less than £5,000. But you can still apply to HM Revenue and Customs for recognition as a charity to get charity tax breaks and claim gift aid.
You can apply to the commission to register this sort of charity voluntarily but the commission will only consider applications in exceptional circumstances. For example, if you can prove that your charity has been offered significant funds but has to provide a registered charity number before it can receive the funds.
Some charities don’t have to register with the commission if their income is below a particular threshold (currently £100,000 a year). These ‘excepted charities’ include:
- churches and chapels of some Christian denominations (and funds connected with them)
- charitable funds of the armed forces
- Scout and Guide groups
If your charity is a local branch of a larger charity it may not have to register unless it’s independent (for example, it controls its own funds). Check with your parent organisation to see if you need to register.
Read the commission’s guidance Excepted charities for more information.
Other charities that can’t register
Some charities can’t register with the commission because they’re regulated by a different organisation (they’re ‘exempt’). These exempt charities include:
- most universities in England
- many national museums and galleries
- some school governing bodies or academy trusts
How to apply to register your charity
Read the application questions, including the instruction notes, carefully and answer them fully.
Your application needs to satisfy the commission that:
- your organisation is a charity and should register
- your trustees understand their role and responsibilities
The commission registers complete applications that meet all the requirements within 5 working days. But the commission may take up to 45 working days to ask you for more information or clarification. For example, because:
- you don’t answer all the questions fully
- you aren’t using a model or approved governing document
- you don’t write your charity’s purposes clearly, explain what they are and how you will carry them out
- you don’t fully explain how your charity’s purposes are for the public benefit and will be carried out for the public benefit
- your charity’s purposes are new or unusual
The commission will return your application to you to resubmit if it’s unclear or incomplete.
Submit your application well in advance if you need to register your charity by a particular date.
Tell the commission about any special circumstances that may affect your application - for example if your charity needs to be set up urgently, such as a disaster appeal, but the trustees haven’t had time to meet and agree its governing document.
Information about your charity
You need to provide:
- your charity’s main bank or building society details (sort codes, account/roll numbers)
- your charity’s public contact details, including a postal address - this cannot usually be a PO Box address except in special circumstances (such as for a refuge)
- a copy of your charity’s governing document as a PDF file - which has been signed or witnessed as necessary
- if your charity is a company: a copy of the certificate of incorporation and memorandum
- proof that your charity’s income is over £5,000 (unless it’s a CIO) - this can be its latest annual accounts, a recent bank statement or a formal offer of funding from a recognised funding body
Information about your trustees
Each trustee must read and sign the trustee declaration form to confirm they can act as a trustee of the organisation named on the declaration form. The commission cannot accept electronic signatures.
The commission will check that all those named in the application as trustees are eligible.
You need to scan this in and send it as a PDF file. You also need:
- the full name of each trustee (this is displayed on the public register of charities)
- the full address and post code of each trustee (this isn’t displayed on the public register of charities)
- their previous names, dates of birth and contact details, including email address if they have one (this isn’t displayed on the public register of charities)
- to say if any trustees (or people connected to them) will personally benefit from the charity in any way
If your charity works with vulnerable people (including children), you’ll need to confirm that you’ve read the commission’s guidance on protecting vulnerable groups including children and sign a declaration that the trustees have carried out all necessary checks required by law.
By signing the trustee declaration form, the trustees confirm their responsibility to provide information which is true, complete and correct and that they understand it is a criminal offence under section 60 of the Charities Act 2011 to knowingly make a false or misleading statement.
What happens after you apply
You will get an automated email to confirm your application has been received.
The commission will assess the information you’ve provided within 48 hours to make sure:
- your organisation is required to register as a charity - if it’s not required to register the commission won’t consider your application, except in special circumstances
- you’ve answered all the necessary questions in full
- you’ve provided the factual information about the charity and trustees to enter in the register of charities
- each trustee is eligible to act as a trustee, including carrying out checks with other agencies
If your application doesn’t provide enough information for the commission to decide whether your organisation is a charity, it will be returned. If this happens you will be asked to resubmit it.
The commission will make a decision based on the information provided and any relevant law, to:
- register your organisation as a charity
- register your organisation as a charity on condition that the trustees take certain actions, which the commission may follow up after registration
- reject your application on the grounds that your organisation isn’t set up as a charity
If your application is successful
If the commission decides your organisation is a charity and should be registered, it will:
- enter your charity on the register of charities - your charity’s register entry should appear on the public register within 48 hours of you being notified of this decision
- email your charity number to your charity’s main contact
- email each trustee, for whom you have provided an email address, a list of online guidance relevant to their role as trustee
If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to register with HM Revenue and Customs for tax relief.
If the commission has registered your charity on condition its trustees take certain actions, it may:
- monitor your charity’s activities after registration
- ask you for evidence that the trustees have taken the required actions
The commission may take regulatory action if the trustees haven’t taken the required actions.
If your application is unsuccessful
The commission will confirm to you in writing the reasons your application was rejected. You can either:
- reapply, providing you have addressed the reasons for rejection
- ask the commission to review its decision to reject your application
- appeal to the Charity Tribunal