Due to the extension of the 2018 Annual Information Statement due date (more on that below), and the launch of the new and improved ACNC Charity Portal, we are receiving an influx of calls and online enquiries from charities.

I am aware that average wait times have increased, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience during this busy period. I am also pleased to announce that from today up until 31 March, our Advice line will be open an extra hour from 5pm to 6pm.

Even with the longer than usual wait time charities are experiencing, calling is still the quickest way to get assistance. We are currently working through a backlog of 800 online enquiries, which could mean a response may take up to two weeks.

If you need assistance logging into the Charity Portal for the first time, please read the guidance we have published on our website. There are step-by-step instructions to follow and a video. If you still need to call, please wait until later in the day, noting we will be available for an extra hour from 5pm (ADST).

Again, thank you for your patience. Once you have access to the new Charity Portal, I hope that you find the user-experience has improved since the last Annual Information Statement was due.

The 2018 Annual Information Statement due date is fast approaching

For many charities, the due date for the 2018 Annual Information Statement is 31 March 2019. Charities that report on a standard financial year - 1 July to 30 June - are usually required to complete their Annual Information Statement by 31 December. This year I exercised my discretion and extended the due date to 31 March to allow charities additional time to log into and navigate the new Charity Portal.

More than 19,000 charities have already submitted their 2018 Annual Information Statement, an outstanding achievement given their lack of familiarity with our new system.

To those charities that remain, I encourage you to submit as soon as possible. Financial penalties can apply for failing to submit on time, and charities that do not report two Annual Information Statements are risking their charity registration.

To submit the Annual Information Statement log into the new Charity Portal at charity.acnc.gov.au. There is a link to helpful instructions in the first section above.

More information about the 2018 Annual Information Statement, including a helpful checklist and guide, is available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/2018AIS.

Political campaigning and advocacy by registered charities

Ahead of the 2019 Federal election campaign, I would like to remind charities of their rights and responsibilities in relation to campaigning and advocacy.

Campaigning and advocacy can be legitimate and effective ways of furthering the charitable purposes of a charity. There is an obvious link, for example, between a charity that advances education and government or opposition policies related to school funding.

However, it is important that charities do not have a disqualifying political purpose and that they maintain independence from party politics. As the name suggests, having a disqualifying purpose means an organisation will no longer be entitled to registration as a charity, which removes entitlement to Commonwealth charity tax concessions.

Ahead of the last Federal election the ACNC produced guidance to assist charities in deciding what advocacy and campaigning they can undertake, and what should be avoided. Despite this guidance being available, we still regularly receive concerns that relate to political advocacy by charities.

This is a reminder to charities to review the guidance before getting involved in political discussion. This is all the more important with the 2019 Federal election just months away. You can read the ACNC’s guide, Charities, Elections and Advocacy, here.

Charities should also be aware that certain types of expenditure may need to be disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission, as required by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth). More information about these requirements is available on the Australian Electoral Commission website at aec.gov.au.

Changes to the ACNC’s processing of withheld information

Under the ACNC’s legislation, charities can apply to have certain information withheld from the ACNC Charity Register. We review these requests and, in very limited circumstances, we agree to withhold information from public view.

Charities seeking to withhold information from the ACNC Charity Register must complete the application form in the new ACNC Charity Portal. Charities that make applications to withhold information are responsible for redacting the requested details from relevant documents. For example, if your charity is applying to withhold its location details and the address is included in your charity’s constitution, it is your responsibility to redact those details before uploading the document to the ACNC’s system.

Previously charities may have only needed to supply the full version of a document containing withheld information. Now, charities will be required to supply two versions of affected documents – a full version for the ACNC’s internal records, and a redacted version for publication on the ACNC Charity Register.

This change has been made to streamline the ACNC’s internal process and ensure that the charity is comfortable with the redacted document before it is published.

Further information about the withholding process and the responsibilities of charities is available on the ACNC website at acnc.gov.au/withholdinfo.

Second Object of the ACNC Act

If you follow the ACNC on social media, particularly Twitter, you will be aware that I have been meeting with a range of sector stakeholders of late to discuss the second Object of the ACNC Act. This is part of a broader project that I flagged in my Commissioner’s Column on 14 December 2018.

There has been some confusion in the sector as to the purpose of this project, so in the coming weeks I will set the record straight.

I will discuss this in more detail in my next column, however, if you’d like to read my statement the moment it’s published, make sure you are following us on social media. Here’s a direct link to our Twitter and Facebook accounts.