Setting Up a Charity in England and Wales

The practice of ‘charity’ is in no way a modern concept – it has been around for hundreds of years. In the Middle Ages charity was most associated with the church and the giving of alms to the poor. Medieval hospitals were also a popular form of charity – they provided shelter the poor, elderly and sick. It can be argued, however, that the foundations of modern charity can be found in the Charitable Uses Act of 1601, also known as the Statute of Elizabeth. This act was part of a general reordering of the system of public responsibilities for the poor. It contained a list of activities that the State deemed of a benefit to society and to which it wanted to encourage donations. This act changed ‘charity’ into something much more like the system we have today. Since then thousands of charities have been formed. The Victorian era, in particular, saw a large increase in the number of charitable organisations such as Barnado’s and the Salvation Army. This was mainly as a response to the restrictive nature of the Poor Law. Today there are over 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales.

 

What is a charity by today’s standards? In general a charitable organisation is one that is philanthropic and non-profit. The legal definition of a charity, however, depends on the country. According to the Charity Commission an organisation can be considered a charity if it is set up under the law of England and Wales and is set up for charitable purposes. There are hundreds of thousands of registered charities and even more small charities that do not have to register. The majority of charities in England and Wales have under £100,000 in annual income. Only a fairly small percentage of the total charities have over a million in annual income. 

 

The ‘charitable purposes’ that define a charity in England and Wales cover a wide range of different principles. An organisation can be considered a charity if it is working towards the prevention/relief of…

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