Who can register as a charity?

Requirements for registering as a charity

Charities Act 2005, s 13

To be able to register as a charity:

  • your organisation must have “charitable purposes”;
  • all of its officers must be qualified under the Charities Act; and
  • from 5 October 2023, all registered charities must have at least one “officer” who is 18 years or older.

The definition of “officer” and these requirements are explained below: see “Who are a charity’s officers”, “What is a charitable purpose” and “Qualified officers”.

Can an unincorporated group register as a charity?

Yes. Charities Services will accept applications from unincorporated groups and from the trustees of a trust, as well as from incorporated societies and other incorporated bodies.

What is a “charitable purpose”?

Charities Act 2005, s 5

A charitable purpose can include:

  • the relief of poverty
  • the advancement of education
  • the advancement of religion, or
  • anything else that benefits the community.

A charitable purpose must also provide a public benefit, which means a benefit that is:

  • recognised by law as beneficial, and
  • available to the public or a sufficient section of the public – for example, people living in a particular geographical area, or with particular charitable needs.

A purpose can’t be charitable if it’s aimed at creating private financial profit.

A marae committee has a charitable purpose if the physical structure of the marae is on Māori reservation land, and the marae’s funds are used only for administering the land and physical structure and/or for a “charitable purpose” according to the general definition above.

Sport and recreation organisations can qualify for registration as charities if promoting sport is the means by which the organisation pursues a charitable purpose. For example, a sports organisation providing training or skills-development for the public may qualify as a charity under the “advancement of education” purpose, or an organisation providing public sport or recreation facilities may be considered to be benefitting the community. (For more information, visit: www.charities.govt.nz/apply-for-registration/charitable-purpose.)

Can a charitable organisation also have non-charitable purposes?

Charities Act 2005, ss 5(3) and 13A

The organisation’s main purposes must be exclusively charitable, but it may also have non-charitable purposes if these are “ancillary” to the main purposes.

A non-charitable purpose will be “ancillary” if it’s an inevitable consequence of the charity’s main work, or if it supports the main charitable purpose. A non-charitable purpose won’t be ancillary if it’s a significant or independent part of the organisation’s work.

In the case of a society or an institution, a charitable entity must be maintained exclusive for charitable purpose and not be carried on for the private pecuniary profit of any individual.

Review governance procedures

Charities Act 2005, ss 42G and 36A

Charities must review their governance procedures at least every three years to consider whether its governance procedure is fit for purpose, assists the charity to achieve its charitable purpose, and assists the charity to comply with the requirements under the Charities Act.

Who are a charity’s “officers”?

Charities Act 2005, ss 4, 36A and 36B

If a charitable organisation is a trust, all the trustees of the trust will be “officers”.

With other charitable entities, the “officers” will be:

  • Someone in a position who is able to exercise significant influence over substantial decisions of the group (for example trustees of the trust, a board member, or any position if that position enables the person to exercise such influence.)
  • It also includes a person who has powers conferred on them to make decisions that would otherwise fall on the trustees, or board, or the governing body of the entity.

All registered charities will be required to have at least one “officer” who is at least 18 years old. The remaining officers can be 16 years old or over.

The role of an “officer” of a charity includes to assist to deliver its charitable purpose and comply with its obligations under the Charities Act or any other enactment.

Qualified officers

All officers must be qualified under Charities Act

Charities Act 2005, s 36B; Crimes Act 1961, s 2(1); Tax Administration Act 1994, s 143B

For an organisation to be able to register as a charity, its officers must not be disqualified under the Charities Act (see also below, “Who are a charity’s ‘officers’?”).

An officer is disqualified if, for example:

  • they’re an undischarged bankrupt, or
  • within the last seven years they’ve been convicted of a dishonesty offence under the Crimes Act or of tax evasion under the Tax Administration Act, or
  • they’re subject to a property order under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 – that is, the Family Court has decided they are unable to manage their own property, or
  • they’ve been convicted of an offence relating to the financing of terrorism under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, whether in New Zealand or elsewhere.

See s 36B(2) of the Charities Act for a full list .

However, if an officer is disqualified by one of these factors or any of the others set out in the Act, the Charities Registration Board has the power to ignore the factor in the particular case.

The Charities Registration Board have powers to disqualify an officer if the officer has engaged in serious wrongdoing in connection with the charity or has failed significantly or persistently to meet their obligations as a “officer” of a charity. Disqualification can be for a period up to 5 years and as soon as possible after issuing a disqualification notice, the Board must publish the notice on the Internet.