Susan Pascoe is away until next week, so in her absence I am acting as Commissioner of the ACNC.

The Bourke Street Fund

Last Friday we all learnt with horror of the senseless act of violence committed in Melbourne. The attack in Bourke Street has left five people dead, including young children, and for countless others their lives will never be the same again.

Yesterday the Victorian Government announced the establishment of The Bourke Street Fund which will be used to provide support to the immediate families of the deceased. Both the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments have donated money to this appeal.

The Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP announced that the Turnbull Government will ensure that the Bourke Street Fund has Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status and that contributions to the Fund will be tax deductible.

Further details about the Fund, including how to make a contribution, visit vic.gov.au/bourkestreet.

File your 2016 Annual Information Statements now

With the Australian Open in full swing and warm summer’s days, I realise that completing your reporting to the ACNC may not seem an immediately attractive proposition. Nevertheless this is what thousands of charities need to turn their attention to this week.

Over 33,000 charities have a reporting year ending 30 June, which means that their 2016 Annual Information Statements need to be filed no later than 31 January 2017. We are pleased that 50% of these charities have already done so.

However, there are still 17,000 charities that only have seven more days to submit their Annual Information Statements. This is a legislative requirement, which the ACNC takes very seriously.

This week the ACNC will be issuing a number of penalty notices to charities that have persistently failed to comply with their reporting obligations. They will be liable for fines up to $4,500 if they do not immediately submit their outstanding Annual Information Statements.

This is not a step that we take lightly, but it is important that charities comply with their legal obligations and the public have access to accurate and up to date information on the Charity Register. I would urge you to go to the Charity Register and Charity Portal and check that all your reporting is up to date.

Submitting the 2016 Annual Information Statement is extremely important for charities that failed to file their 2015 Annual Information Statement. Charities that fail to report twice become what we refer to as ‘double defaulters’, which is ground for revocation of charity status.

You can find the list of charities that are at risk at acnc.gov.au/redmark. If you know any of them, volunteer for them, or advise them, then please encourage them to act now.

10 helpful hints for charities filing their Annual Information Statements

We are keen to make it as easy as possible for charities to complete their annual reporting to the ACNC.

To that end, this week I wrote a piece for Pro Bono News Australia outlining 10 helpful hints to help you to file the 2016 Annual Information Statement. This is based on our experiences of helping charities submit their Annual Information Statements over the past three years.

You can read more at probonoaustralia.com.au/news.

One of the most common queries we get from charities completing their Annual Information Statement is that they have lost their password. If you are in this situation, you can automatically re-set your password at acnc.gov.au/passwordreset. Other common queries are answered in our helpful guidance materials available at acnc.gov.au/2016ais.

If you are submitting an Annual Information Statement for the first time, or are otherwise a little unsure, you can watch our free webinar or screencast that explain the process.

If you get stuck and really need to speak to someone then our Advice Services staff can help. Please do be aware though that this is our busiest time of the year and if you leave it to the last minute there will be a longer than usual wait, simply because of the thousands of calls and e-mails that we get. To avoid difficulty it is much better to file early.

You can call our Advice Services team on 13 ACNC (13 22 62) or email them at advice@acnc.gov.au.

Recent compliance revocations

Last week the ACNC took the step of revoking the charity registration of Catch the Fire Ministries Inc, you can read our media release at acnc.gov.au/mediareleases.

As you will probably be aware as a regular reader of Susan’s column, the ACNC currently has very restrictive privacy provisions in our legislation. This makes it difficult for us to talk about investigations even at the conclusion of a case where we have made findings and taken regulatory action. We know that this causes frustration in the sector, and makes it difficult for the community to understand the facts of a case and basis for our action.

In the case of Catch the Fire Ministries, the charity itself spoke to the media and made public the fact that the issues we had looked at during our investigation included whether the organisation had a non-charitable political purpose.

In April last year the ACNC issued guidance on political advocacy called Charities, elections and advocacy. I would strongly encourage all senior staff and board members of charities to study this closely.

The guidance sets out the things that need to be considered, what activities we consider to be acceptable and what activities may bring a charity’s entitlement to registration into question.

The ACNC has had 37 concerns raised with us in the last year regarding such issues and we still have a number under investigation and active consideration.

You can read the guidance at acnc.gov.au/advocacy.

On 18 January 2017 we revoked the charity status of Harvest Angels Inc, following an investigation into the organisation’s activities and operations.

The Australian Business Register states that the organisation is based in Queensland and has been operating since 2015.

It was endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office to access the following Commonwealth charity tax concessions:

  • GST concession
  • Income tax exemption, and
  • FBT rebate.

The organisation did not have deductible gift receipent status.

Harvest Angels Inc will now lose access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

You can find the full list of the ACNC’s compliance activity at acnc.gov.au/compliancedecisions.

Sector events on Charities Report 2015

Shortly before Christmas last year, we launched the Australian Charities Report 2015 – a charity sector census. It is full of fascinating findings about the sector.

If you have not yet had a chance to do so, I’d encourage you to take a look at the report, our two page infographic summary, and the interactive datacube at australiancharities.acnc.gov.au.

I am pleased to announce that we are running free events in every capital city over the next month with the researchers from the Centre for Social Impact at University of New South Wales and sector leaders. These should be really interesting sessions and I would encourage you to sign up for one.

Visit acnc.gov.au/charitiesreport for more information, or to register for an event in your capital city.

We look forward to seeing you at one of these.

With very best wishes

David Locke