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A Public Benevolent Institution (PBI) is one of the categories or ‘subtypes’ of charity able to be registered with the ACNC.

A PBI can apply for charity tax concessions and may be eligible to be endorsed as a deductible gift recipient (DGR) by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

This factsheet explains what a PBI is, and outlines the requirements for registration as a PBI.

For more information, see our Commissioner's Interpretation Statement: Public Benevolent Institutions.

The legal meaning of a Public Benevolent Institution

A PBI is a type of charitable institution which is organised, conducted or promoted for the relief of poverty, sickness, destitution, helplessness, suffering, misfortune, disability or distress.

PBIs are recognised by the ACNC and ATO as a subtype of charity.

Requirements for registration as a Public Benevolent Institution

Your organisation may be a PBI if:

  • meets the legal meaning of charity and is entitled to be registered as a charity
  • it is an institution
  • it is organised, conducted or promoted to provide benevolent relief to people in need.

To be registered as a charity, an organisation must:

  • be not-for-profit
  • have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit
  • meet the ACNC Governance Standards and External Conduct Standards (if applicable)
  • have an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • not have a disqualifying purpose
  • not be an individual, a political party or a government agency
  • not be ‘covered by a decision in writing made by an Australian government agency (including a judicial officer) under Australian law that provides for entities to be characterised on the basis of them engaging in, or supporting, terrorist or other criminal activities.’

Find out more about eligibility for charity registration with the ACNC.

For an organisation to be considered ‘public’, it must aim to benefit an appreciable section of the community.

An organisation’s beneficiaries will be a section of the community if the organisation chooses who it helps based on their need and the organisation’s capacity to provide help, and not on any arbitrary basis.

Whether the beneficiaries are an ‘appreciable’ section of the community is a matter of degree, and it depends on the nature of the need that the organisation is trying to relieve and the means that is uses to relieve it.

Other indicators that an organisation is ‘public’ include:

  • receipt of financial or other support from the government
  • receipt of financial or other support from members of the public
  • control by members of the public, rather than control by people who are related to one another.

But, as long as an organisation aims to relieve an appreciable section of the community, the fact it may lack these other characteristics will not necessarily prevent it from being ‘public’.

An institution is a body created to carry out activities in furtherance of a particular object, purpose or aim.

There is no required legal structure for an organisation to be an institution, but that organisation must exist in a form that enables it to carry out activities.

In deciding whether an organisation is an institution, the main thing the ACNC will look at is the nature and frequency of the organisation’s activities.

To be an institution, your organisation must not be a mere trust or fund. It must do more than just hold property on trust and make distributions of funds or property to other organisations or individuals. It must have its own activities, or engage others to undertake activities on its behalf.

The ACNC will also consider membership of the organisation and the relationships between those who control it.

For example, an organisation controlled by members of the same family, which undertakes activities on a small scale, and which has a small and exclusive membership, is unlikely to be an ‘institution’.

Benevolent relief includes working for the relief of poverty or distress (such as sickness, disability, destitution, suffering, misfortune or helplessness).

The degree or level of distress is also important, and your charity only meets the definition if it is organised to relieve distress that is beyond the suffering experienced as part of ordinary daily life.

For example, a charity that provides counselling services to people traumatised by a natural disaster, or one that provides education and activities to disadvantaged young people to help them gain skills in life, may be a PBI.

A PBI can engage in activities that are not themselves directed towards benevolent relief, but only if those activities are ancillary to benevolent relief.

Your charity does not have to provide material help directly to those in need. A PBI can engage others to undertake activities on its behalf or be part of a relationship of collaboration (such as within a group of related organisations with shared objects) that is organised, conducted for, or promotes benevolent relief.

For example, your charity may still be a PBI even if it mainly raises funds that are used to provide benevolent relief, rather than directly providing the relief itself. On the other hand, if your charity is a fund that provides monies to different charities from time to time and some of these charities happen to be PBIs, this is unlikely to be sufficient for it to be a PBI.

To show that your charity is a PBI if it does not directly provide the material help, you need evidence that the activities your charity does undertake are organised and conducted to relieve the poverty or distress of people in need. For example, you may provide details of how your charity’s funds are channelled to programs that provide benevolent relief, through a collaborative arrangement with another organisation that delivers those programs.

The relief provided by a PBI must only be for people. Your charity must also show that it works for a section of the community that clearly needs help, in other words 'people in need'. General or abstract purposes such as benefiting the whole community is not enough.

An example may be a charity that provides assistance to homeless people across Australia or within a certain community.

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