Welcome to 2014. I hope that everyone enjoyed a relaxing break and is ready to start the new year with increased enthusiasm and energy.

At the ACNC we are starting 2014 with a new Charities Act (the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) and Charities (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2013 (Cth)) and this has resulted in:

  • a new online registration form (live on acnc.gov.au from 10 January) and increased guidance for charities as part of a broader review and update to the ‘register my charity’ and other pages on the website
  • the Australian Taxation Office updating a number of their guidance products and tools, including the updated model trust deeds for ancillary funds.

Our Advisory Board will also have its first meeting for the year in Melbourne in January.

2013 Annual Information Statement

Thank you to the charities who are continuing to complete and submit the 2013 Annual Information Statement. Currently we have in excess of 15,500 charities who have either completed or commenced their statements. A reminder that the deadline for the 2013 Annual Information Statement (for charities using the standard 1 July to 30 June financial year) has been extended from 31 December 2013, to 31 March 2014. It will not be possible to provide an extension beyond this date, so we encourage those charities operating on a financial year who have not yet submitted to do so. We also remind those charities operating on a calendar year that their deadline is 30 June 2014.

For groups of charities, bulk lodgement offers a way to streamline reporting to the ACNC. Bulk lodgement is the process that allows you to submit Annual Information Statement information on behalf of multiple registered charities on a single form (an excel spreadsheet). This is useful for those who work with a number of charities, such as a corporate trustee administrating multiple trusts, or a denomination administration office for multiple religious charities. Check the ACNC website to see if as charity you are eligible.

The ACNC Charity Portal

The introduction of the ACNC Charity Portal has proved popular with charities with 31,755 visits made so far.

The Portal is an online service where you can:

  • access and update a charity’s details immediately on the ACNC Register if you are authorised to do so
  • submit your Annual Information Statement onto the Register
  • print a copy of your charity’s registration certificate.

Guest editorial

The number of registered charities in Australia has recently been a topic of discussion and debate both in the community and with the media. David Locke provides his views on this below.

In closing, I encourage everyone to keep safe this week as temperatures across Australia soar into the ‘40s’ and most importantly be prepared to enact your fire plans.

Good wishes

Susan Pascoe AM

Commissioner

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission


Are there too many charities in Australia?

Guest editorial by David Locke, ACNC Assistant Commissioner, Charity Services

In 2013, the ACNC registered over 2000 new charities. This is an increase on previous years. The Charities Act 2013 has recently come into effect, adding the promotion of reconciliation, human rights, culture, and the environment to the list of charitable purposes. This has sparked an interest in the media about the number of registered charities in Australia. Questions have been raised about whether this has a detrimental effect on giving or whether charities would be more effective if they merged.

So why are the numbers of charities increasing?

Well, we don’t know for certain that they are. It is true that there has been in an increase in the number of charities newly registered over the last year, compared to when charitable status was determined by the ATO. This in part can be explained by the ACNC legislation that required certain religious charities that had previously self-assessed for tax purposes being required to register. We have also worked with certain groups of charities (such as RSL funds) that should have been registered years ago, to register them through a bulk registration process.

What we don’t yet know for certain is how many charities are winding up each year.

The Annual Information Statement process that we are part way through will identify this. Experience in other countries is that often as many charities cease to operate in a year as those that start, and therefore the number of registered charities remains fairly static. Through annual reporting (such as our Annual Information Statement), international charity regulators keep their public register up to date.

How can I see what charities are already doing work in a particular area?

For the first time we are starting to get accurate data on the charitable sector in Australia. One of the main reasons for establishing the ACNC was to provide the public with information on charities. This is something that often gets lost in the debate about red tape. Charities by their very nature are established and run for the benefit of the public, rather than for private or commercial ends. It is for this reason that they receive a wide support from the community and a range of tax exemptions and concessions.

Transparency and accountability underpin charitable giving and volunteering. The public as supporters, as volunteers, as donors, as members, as consumers, as service users and as tax payers expect to be able to see what public benefit organisations do for their community and how their funds are obtained and spent.

Prior to the establishment of the ACNC Register, Australia did not have a national database of charities. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was not required to maintain one. It was not always easy to see where there was duplication with existing charities, or where there was no provision at all. The Register now enables funders and the public to see this and easily search to see for example, how many children’s charities there are already in a particular community. This will generate further debate and may lead to more collaborations and mergers.

Does having more charities mean that the funds available for good causes are spread more thinly?

Sometimes this can be the case, but there also examples where a new charity can generate additional or new sources of income that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.

The ACNC certainly has a role to encourage people thinking about setting up a new charity to first look and see whether there are already existing charities that they can support instead and this is now easy to do. There are over 59,000 charities already doing great work across Australia and often supporting an existing charity is often the best way for a person to help others or advance a charitable cause that they really care about.

Where people apply to register a new charity we have a role in advising them to consider what other charities are already doing, what they propose and directing them to the ACNC Register. We can advise on alternatives such as supporting an existing charity, setting up a sub-fund with a community foundation, or an account with a charities aid foundation which can enable them to achieve their aims. If having considered this, people still want to set up a new charity and register it with us, then we are required by law to register it, if it satisfies the legal requirements.

Shouldn’t charities collaborate, or even merge, if that is a better use of charitable funds?

The ability of citizens to come together and form not-for-profit organisations is a basic right of freedom of association that we all value. Charities are non-government organisations and the State should only intervene with them if there is a clear and justifiable reason and a proper legal authority to do so.

ACNC legislation sets out the limited circumstances where the ACNC can give directions to charities or intervene in their governance. These are restricted to where there is a serious breach of governance, or entitlement to be registered. The ACNC acts in accordance with its published regulatory approach and reserves its powers of intervention to where there is serious or deliberate misconduct or mismanagement.

Whilst the ACNC can help charities that want to merge or collaborate, it does not have a role to direct this. It is up to each charity’s board members to decide what is the best way to further their charity’s own purposes. The ACNC encourages all board members to think about this regularly. Sometimes the best thing to do may be to merge with another charity or to wind the charity up and transfer the assets to another charity. This is matter for the board of a charity, its members and its supporters; I do not believe that it should not be a matter for the State.

The ACNC welcomes genuine charities and the establishment of new charities that meet a need in the community. We know that the civil society organisations are constantly evolving and are great at responding to changing and unmet needs. We respect the independence, diversity, and vibrancy of the charitable sector. Each charity is established for the public benefit of the community and through its work it enriches our society.

Contact us

Our phone number is 13 ACNC (13 22 62) or you can email us at advice@acnc.gov.au.

Remember to also stay in touch via our social media accounts:

Good wishes
Susan Pascoe AM
Commissioner
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission