An unincorporated association is one type of organisational structure for a charity.
Unlike an incorporated structure, an unincorporated association is not a separate legal entity from its members.
It is simply the group itself, of people who has agreed to come together to pursue a common purpose, such as to establish a faith community.
Therefore, an unincorporated association cannot enter into contracts in its own name, or own land, or employ people, or sue or be sued.
The members of the unincorporated association do these things on behalf of the association. The members may each have individual legal liability for the association’s debts and defaults, something which can lead to legal risk for those members.
Who chooses to be an unincorporated association?
The unincorporated association structure is generally suitable for small, simple groups or organisations with minimal assets who do work that has minimal risk, and who are not intending to incorporate.
Groups who have recently formed and are small - such as early start-ups - may choose to be an unincorporated association.
While they may take any structure, groups like religious communities, animal welfare groups and cultural groups sometimes also choose to be structured as an unincorporated association. These types of associations can only be registered as charities if they have a charitable purpose and meet other requirements of registration.
Only unincorporated religious charities (that also meet other criteria) can fit within the limited group of charities the ACNC calls ‘Basic Religious Charities’.