Standard Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are
available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise others.
Background to the draft Charities Bill
Standard Note: SN/HA/3054
14 May 2004
Home Affairs Section
On 26 November 2003, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech that the Government will
publish a draft Charities Bill. This will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint
Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. The draft Bill will apply only to England and
Wales. A very similar Bill is going through the Scottish Parliament to the same timescale. This
note sets out the background to the draft Bill. It includes a very brief summary of the existing
law governing charities and of the Strategy Unit Review, Private Action, Public Benefit and the
Charity Commission’s and Government’s responses to that Review. Finally, it includes an
indication of what might be included in the draft Bill.
A. Current law
To be charitable, an organisation must have purposes which are exclusively charitable and it
must be established for public benefit. There is no structure or legal form which is reserved
solely for charities. In practice charities may be registered companies, trusts, or unincorporated
A charity's purposes are its objects or aims which are usually set out in its governing document.
At present there is no statutory definition of charity and the legal concept has been developed by
the courts over several centuries. The current law is based on the preamble to the Charitable
Uses Act 1601. This Act did not contain a definition of charity but instead a list of the purposes
considered charitable at that time. New purposes are considered to be charitable if they are
analogous to one of the purposes listed in the preamble or to a purpose already considered
charitable by analogy with it.
In 1891, Lord McNaghte