Early last week I had the pleasure of writing a short article for Pro Bono Australia, which discussed what charities can expect from the ACNC in 2019.

This year we are focussed on making the Charity Register even more powerful. In terms of search speed and presentation of information, the Charity Register has already improved since our new IT system went live in October 2018.

In 2019-20, we want to do more to connect donors and charities.

We are working on providing software to charities so that they have an option to answer existing AIS questions about their activities at a program level. This will drive an improved search function that will allow donors to search for charities doing work in specific locations.

It is an exciting project and the charities all over the country that I have spoken to have expressed their support. I will provide updates on this project throughout the year.

Charities can also expect to hear more about Object 2 of the ACNC Act in 2019, as we look to undertake a sector-wide conversation about the definition of the second object and how we, as a regulator, can measure changes in the elements - robust, vibrant, independent and innovative – in order to support them.

While 2019 holds many unknowns, what we know for sure is that there will be a Federal Election this calendar year. For many charities, election campaigns represent an opportunity to publicly engage on issues related to their purpose. I encourage charities seeking to engage in advocacy to familiarise themselves with our elections guidance on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/politicaladvocacy.

In addition, there are obligations under the Electoral Act, which I do not administer. For advice on those obligations please visit aec.gov.au.

To read my Pro Bono Australia article, visit the Pro Bono Australia website.

Media coverage of registered charity Aussie Farms

While I do not usually comment on media coverage of charities, I feel it is necessary to acknowledge the recent reports raising concerns about Aussie Farms and their interactive map which highlights the location of farming properties and abattoirs.

Due to the secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act, I am unable to comment on the specific issue. However, I would like to reassure the public that the ACNC takes all concerns seriously and where there is evidence of misconduct, we will investigate. In instances where the ACNC finds deliberate breaches of the ACNC Act or Governance Standards, we will take action.

The ACNC has a range of compliance powers at its disposal, ranging from a formal warning or issuing a direction to the revocation of charity status. Revocation of charity status is the ACNC’s most severe enforcement power and strips an organisation of its entitlement to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

The ACNC supports charities carrying out their charitable purposes – however, charities must swim between the flags and ensure they are meeting their obligations under the ACNC Act, Charities Act and Governance Standards.

If the ACNC takes formal compliance action against any charity, this will be published on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

Improvements to the new Charity Portal

While we only launched the new Charity Portal in October 2018, we have already implemented improvements based on initial feedback from charities.

To make these improvements, both the Charity Portal and ACNC website have been unavailable a few times recently after-hours. I would like to apologise for any inconvenience this has caused and thank charities for their patience as we continue to improve our online services.

The first thing charities will notice when they log into the new Charity Portal is that we have grouped like tasks. Charities reported that they were having trouble completing certain tasks, so we have improved the layout to make it easier to find the right form. Activities in the Charity Portal are now split into three key categories:

  • Manage reporting - including submitting Annual Information Statements, uploading your charity’s annual report or requesting a different reporting period for your charity.
  • Manage people – to add or remove a Responsible Person for your charity, or to change your charity’s primary contact.
  • Manage other charity details – including updates to the charity’s Address For Service, subtype, governing documents and more.

Charities can also submit an enquiry to our Advice team through the Charity Portal. If you are looking for general assistance to help you navigate the Charity Portal, visit acnc.gov.au/newportalinfo.

Due date extended for 2018 Annual Information Statement

The launch of the new Charity Portal has increased the number of calls our Advice team are receiving each day. This increase in demand has also slowed the time it normally takes for us to respond to emails.

Many of these enquiries have been about the 2018 Annual Information Statement. I am pleased to announce that I have exercised my discretion and extended the due date for charities that normally submit early in the year.

Charities with reporting due dates between 31 December and 28 February now have until 31 March 2019 to submit their 2018 Annual Information Statement.

If you require assistance with completing your 2018 Annual Information Statement, a guide and checklist are available online at acnc.gov.au/2018AIS. And if you need assistance accessing the new Charity Portal, I recommend first reading the guidance on our website before calling or emailing our Advice team. Visit acnc.gov.au/charityportal for more information.

Recent compliance action

The ACNC has recently revoked the charity status of two organisations following separate compliance investigations.

House of Hope Recovery Centre (ABN: 81693714726)

House of Hope Recovery Centre had its charity status revoked on 12 January 2018. The organisation was endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions, including goods and services tax (GST) concessions, income tax exemptions and FBT rebates.

House of Hope Recovery Centre was also endorsed as a deductible gift recipient (DGR).

Justice Empowerment Mission Inc. (ABN: 11787797618)

Justice Empowerment Mission Inc had its charity status revoked on 23 January 2019. The organisation was endorsed by the ATO to access Commonwealth charity tax concessions including GST concessions, income tax exemptions and FBT rebates.

Justice Empowerment Mission was also endorsed as a DGR.

Both organisations have now lost access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

We are prevented from disclosing further details due to secrecy provisions in the ACNC Act. However, we publish instances where we use our formal powers – including where we revoke a charity's registration – on the Charity Register and at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

If you have concerns about the activities and operations of a registered charity, please raise them by visiting acnc.gov.au/charityconcern.

Best wishes,

The Hon Dr Gary Johns