Thursday, November 26, 2009

Public Benefit Assessments – The Lawyers’ Perspective

The Charity Commission of England and Wales performs assessments of the public benefit provided by charitable organizations.  Where the Commission finds the benefit provided wanting it may require further action by the charity to increase or diversify the public benefits provided.  Third Sector reports that “Charities are being put off from engaging with the Charity Commission because they fear becoming embroiled in lengthy assessments of their public benefit, according to some charity lawyers.” 

Lawyers have raised a number of concerns about the assessment process.  Lawyers complain that the assessments cause charities a lot of anxiety and frustration.  The Commission has not been able to provide a definitive answer to the question of what triggers a public benefit assessment stating only that each case is taken on its merits.  Public benefit assessments have been launched against charities for a variety of activities such as incorporation, altering their objective, selling land or revising their trustee benefit provisions.  Further, lawyers claim that they do not see the assessment results as having any real consistency.  This lack of certainty regarding both the triggering and the results of assessments creates a serious hurdle for lawyers trying to counsel their charitable clients.

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