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‘Charity’ has a technical legal meaning.

When the ACNC decides whether to register an organisation as a charity, we apply the law taking relevant legislation into account.

The Charities Act and the statutory definition of charity

The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (the Charities Act) sets out the legal meaning of charity. The ACNC must apply this law.

The Charities Act restates the existing (judge-made) law in modern language and also recognises charitable purposes such as the protection of human rights, the promotion of reconciliation and tolerance, and by recognising that many modern charities advance causes by preventing, educating, researching and raising awareness.

The Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2013 (Cth) (the Charities Consequential and Transitional Act) supports us to administer the Charities Act.

The Charities Act clarifies that to be recognised as a charity, an organisation must:

  • be not-for-profit
  • have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit
  • not have a disqualifying purpose
  • not be an individual, a political party or a government entity.

Charitable purpose

The law requires all of your organisation’s purposes to be charitable, except for purposes that are ‘incidental or ancillary to’ (in other words, those which further or aid) the charitable purposes.

See our guidance about charitable purposes and charity subtypes for more information.

Public benefit

The Charities Act does not change the meaning of public benefit.

The definition maintains that certain purposes (for example, advancing education or religion, relieving poverty) are, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, for the public benefit.

The Charities Act does not change the way the ACNC determines public benefit in other cases.

See our guidance about public benefit for more information.

ACNC Commissioner Interpretation Statements

ACNC Commissioner Interpretation Statements set our approach to interpreting the law in relation to our role of registering and regulating charities.

Read our Commissioner's Interpretation Statements.

Previous tax rulings on charitable status

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has produced tax rulings on charitable status which set out the ATO Commissioner's opinion about the way the tax law will be interpreted and applied.

Taxation Ruling (TR) 2011/4 sets out how the ATO interprets the meaning of charity.

This and other ATO rulings are not binding on the ACNC. However, we will have regard to what the ATO previously considered to be a charity, including what is set out in taxation rulings.

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