Factsheet: Health promotion charities

A health promotion charity (HPC) is one of the categories or ‘subtypes’ of charity that can be registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). Health promotion charities (like public benevolent institutions) can apply for charity tax concessions and may be eligible for deductible gift recipient (DGR) status with the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

Attention - Important information!If you want your charity to be a DGR under the health promotion charity category, your charity must first be registered as a health promotion charity with the ACNC and satisfy other requirements of the ATO.

What is a health promotion charity?

The specific legal meaning of health promotion charity is a charitable 'institution whose principal activity is to promote the prevention or the control of diseases in human beings'. The description of a health promotion charity may be narrower than the description of a charity with ‘the purpose of advancing health’, as it sets out requirements of promoting the prevention or control of disease(s), not just an improvement to general health.

Also, a health promotion charity does not necessarily need to have the charitable purpose of advancing health. While it must have a charitable purpose, the ACNC does not consider that the purpose (or purposes) of the HPC need necessarily be advancing health. For example, a charity with the purpose of advancing education that’s main educational activity is promoting safe sex in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases can also be a health promotion charity.

Examples of health promotion charities include organisations that:

  • research treatments for diseases or methods of disease prevention, or
  • work to raise awareness of diseases.

Not all health-related charities are health promotion charities.

Requirements for registration as a health promotion charity

Your charity may be a health promotion charity if:

  1. it fits the legal meaning of a charity and is entitled to be registered as a charity
  2. it is an institution
  3. it promotes the prevention or the control of disease in human beings (or does both), and
  4. its promotion activity is its principal activity.

1. Is it eligible to be registered as a charity?

To be recognised as a charity, an organisation must:

  • be not-for-profit
  • have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit
  • meet ACNC governance standards
  • have an ABN
  • not have a disqualifying purpose
  • not be an individual, a political party or a government agency.

Find out more about registering with the ACNC.

2. Is it an institution?

An institution is 'an establishment, organisation or association, instituted for the promotion of some object, especially objects of public utility, or that are religious, charitable or educational'. There is no required legal structure to be an institution, but the organisation must exist to enable the carrying out of its charitable purpose. In deciding whether a charity is an institution the ACNC will look at different factors such as its structure, size, permanence, recognition and activities.

To be an institution your charity must not be a mere trust or fund. Your charity must do more than just hold property on trust and make distributions of funds or property to other organisations or individuals. Your charity must have its own activities or engage others to undertake activities on its behalf.

3. Does it promote the prevention or control of disease?

Definition of disease

The Macquarie Online Dictionary defines ‘disease’ as 'a morbid condition of the body, or of some organ or part; illness; sickness; ailment'. The Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary defines ‘disease’ as 'a disorder with a specific cause (which may or may not be known) and recognisable signs and symptoms; any bodily abnormality or failure to function properly, except that resulting directly from physical injury (the latter, however, may open the way for disease).'

‘Disease’ is a broad term that encompasses both physical and mental illnesses. It must be a disease, rather than a general health condition or symptom. However, where a health condition or symptom, if untreated, will degenerate into an identified disease(s), activities to prevent or control that condition or symptom could be viewed as prevention or control of the disease(s). An example could be activities working to reduce or prevent tobacco use, based on evidence that links tobacco use with a range of cancers.

The disease(s) must affect human beings – diseases affecting animals, but not humans, will not meet this description.

Some examples of disease are asthma, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, arthritis, heart disease, brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, cerebral palsy, mental illness and multiple sclerosis. However, not everything that affects a person's mind or body is a disease. For example, a condition like pregnancy is not a disease. Similarly, symptoms due to an accident are not a disease, like a broken arm from a fall.

Classifications and guidelines on disease

The ACNC will be guided by the work of key health and research bodies on any existing, new or emerging definition of disease(s) or consideration of disease(s), including:

  • the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – provides comprehensive information and research about health and diseases affecting Australians
  • the National Health and Medical Research Council – a leading Australian expert body promoting the development and maintenance of public and individual health standards, and
  • the World Health Organisation – established in 1948 with the primary role of directing and coordinating international health within the United Nations system. It publishes the annual World Health Report and the International Classification of Diseases.

The ACNC may have also regard to relevant work of similar reputable organisations such as the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the definition does not appear to restrict the number of diseases or groups of diseases that a charity could promote the prevention or control of, the ACNC considers that where possible there should be identification of the disease(s), whose control or prevention the charity is promoting.

For example, to be a health promotion charity it would not be enough for a charity to promote appropriate weight reduction or increased physical activity without identifying the disease(s) that are being prevented or controlled through this promotion.

Does it promote prevention or control of disease?

It is important that the principal activity of the charity is to ‘promote the prevention or control’ of disease(s). The use of the word ‘promote’ may capture a wider category of charities than those that engage directly in activities to prevent or control disease(s) (such as research into the prevention of certain types of cancer).

Definition of promote

The definition of ‘promote’ includes:

  • to further the growth, development or progress of
  • to encourage
  • to foster; to support or actively encourage.

A broad view is taken of the activities that might promote prevention or control of disease. While the activities of preventing or controlling disease must be the main focus of a health promotion charity, these do not need to be the only activities of the charity.

As ‘promote’ is to be understood by its ordinary meaning, there could be many ways in which a charity’s activities may in fact promote the prevention or control of disease(s). For example, a charity involved mainly in public awareness-raising activities about the importance of immunising against certain diseases would fit within this definition.

The use of the word ‘promote’ does not apply broadly to general health and wellbeing programs. The promotion must relate to prevention or control of disease(s).

Prevention or control of disease(s) includes, but is not limited to, taking action to reduce the spread of disease(s), research into management and treatment of disease(s), managing and treating disease(s) and activities to alleviate suffering or distress caused by disease(s).

Whether it has to be successful promotion

This does not mean that a charity has to demonstrate its success in promoting the prevention or control of disease(s), or its success in actually preventing or controlling disease(s). However, the charity needs to show that the nature of its activities can be considered to promote the prevention or control of disease(s).

For example, a research institution with the purpose of developing treatment for a particular cancer or cancers or another disease could be a health promotion charity.

Examples of health promotion activities

Activities that may promote the prevention of a disease include:

  • raising public awareness regarding a disease, its causes, and measures that can be taken to guard against contracting it, and
  • undertaking medical research into the causes of a disease or how to prevent a disease.

Activities that may promote the control of a disease include:

  • developing or providing aids or equipment to help people suffering from a disease
  • education of carers of people with a disease, and
  • undertaking medical research into the treatment of a disease.

Activities that are unlikely to promote the prevention or control of a disease include:

  • promoting healthy lifestyles in a general sense, such as the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise
  • promoting a particular type of exercise due to its general health benefits, and
  • activities intended to increase a person’s ‘wellbeing’.

4. Is promoting the prevention or control of disease its principal activity?

The description of health promotion charity focuses on its activity. It is possible that a charity that fits within the description of a health promotion charity at one point in time may not do so at another time if it has changed its activities.

The principal activity is the main activity conducted by the charity, or the activity that it conducts more than any other activity. A health promotion charity can undertake other activities, but promoting the prevention or control of disease(s) in human beings must be its main activity.

While most often the promotion activities will take the majority of the charity’s time or resources, there may be cases where it does not. For example, if a charity had five activities, four of which each took 15 per cent of its time and resources, and a fifth which took up forty per cent of its time and resources, it is the fifth which would be considered its ‘principal activity’.

The principal activity must be conducted in order to promote the prevention or control of disease(s). What is considered to be the principal activity will vary depending on the facts of each case.

If a charity’s principal activity may lead to the prevention or control of disease as a possible outcome, but does not have this focus, this is unlikely to be enough. The link between what the charity does and the prevention or control of disease(s) must be clear.

More information

Read this factsheet together with:

Contact the ACNC

Phone: 13 ACNC (13 22 62)
Email: advice@acnc.gov.au
Mail: Advice Services, Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, GPO Box 5108, Melbourne VIC 3001
Fax: 1300 232 569


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