A charity is an organisation set up for exclusively charitable purposes, which carries out activities to achieve these purposes. A charity must be set up to help the public and not particular individuals.

There are 13 charitable purposes, and the most relevant for the arts are likely to be in one of three main categories:

  1. the advancement of education;
  2. the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science.
  3. other charitable purposes which help and benefit the community.

A charity must register with the Charity Commission if:

  • it is set up in England or Wales and/or
  • the majority of charity trustees live in England or Wales and/or
  • the majority of the assets are in England or Wales and/or
  • it is a company and is incorporated in England or Wales.

Furthermore, it must be registered if any one or more of the following apply:

  • the organisation has permanent endowment (land, buildings, investments or cash which may not be spent by a charity);
  • the organisation has total income of more than £1,000 a year;
  • the organisation has a rateable occupation of any land, including buildings. This applies even where the local authority has agreed not to charge any rates, or has reduced the rates.

For more information, see the Charity Commission website (through which you can order advice booklets) or contact the Charity Commission. Most charities in England and Wales have to register with the Charity Commission for England and Wales.  The Charity Commission also publishes online documents for trustees and others involved in charity work.

This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.