Setting up and running a charity – guidance

How to register a charity (CC21b)

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.

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:

Complete the online application form

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.

‘Excepted’ charities

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

The commission can’t register charities that aren’t based in England and Wales - Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own charity regulators.

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

Before you start, make sure you’ve read the commission’s guidance on how to set up a charity and on how to write your charity’s purposes.

Read the application questions, including the guidance 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:

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: