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Standard fact sheet.
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Charitable purpose 

The Act does not contain a definition of "charitable purpose" and the meaning of this term is largely based upon the decisions of the Court over the years. These decisions have reflected changing perceptions of social needs and attitudes.

Categories of charitable purposes

Charitable purposes can be grouped under four broad headings:

  • the relief of financial hardship
  • the advancement of education
  • the advancement of religion
  • other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community.

To be a charity it is essential that the purposes are also for the public benefit. Public benefit means it is for the benefit of the community or a significant section of it. A purpose is not for the public benefit if it is mainly for the benefit of a named person or specific individuals (e.g. the relief of financial hardship). However, the public benefit test is not required to be satisfied under the Act, and we do not require any evidence that there is a benefit for the public in a way that is recognised as charitable.

In general terms, no organisation can be charitable if:

  • its purposes are illegal or could be said to further illegal purposes
  • it is set up for personal benefit
  • it is created for the specific purpose of carrying out political or propagandist activities
  • its purposes are against the public interest.

The relief of financial hardship

Financial hardship is not defined by a specified amount of money which the beneficiaries have, although the person must be in genuine financial need. Relief of financial hardship also includes, for example, help to people who are suffering from the effects of old age, sickness or from a disability, where, in each case, there is also financial need. Most charities for the relief of sickness come within this category because sickness is often related to poverty or inability to pay for treatment.

Charities may relieve hardship in many different ways, for instance:

  • by giving money to beneficiaries
  • by providing food, clothing or housing; or
  • by giving advisory or other services to those in need.

Charities may also provide support for other organisations which give help to people suffering hardship. The hardship being suffered does not have to be long-­term. Temporary hardship caused by job loss or sickness, for example, may qualify for help.

The advancement of education

The advancement of education is not limited to formal education at schools, colleges or universities. It can also include:

  • playgroups
  • organisations providing work related training (for example, nursing or engineering)
  • research institutions.

Education in the charitable sense cannot include the study of subjects which have no educational value. If research is being done, it needs to be carried out in an objective and impartial way and the useful results must be made available, or accessible, to the public. Such groups, organisations or institutions cannot be conducted for personal gain.

The advancement of religion

In general, no distinction is made between one religion and another. There is a general assumption that the advancement of religion is for the public benefit. For the advancement of religion to be charitable, a religion (with a few exceptions), has to:

  • be founded on a belief and reverence for a god or gods;
  • promotes spiritual teaching and the dissemination of its doctrines; and
  • promotes itself in religious rites, observances and services.

The advancement of religion can include the provision and upkeep of places of worship, paying ministers or priests, and holding services.

Other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community

Purposes which benefit the community and are considered to be charitable include:

  • the relief of old age, sickness or disability, where there is no financial need
  • promoting racial harmony
  • the resettlement and rehabilitation of offenders and drug abusers
  • the conservation and protection of the natural environment and endangered species (plants and animals
  • providing help for victims of natural or civil disasters
  • the provision of recreational facilities which are open to everyone (for example, a sports centre)
  • the provision of recreational facilities for particular beneficiary groups such as people with disabilities or the elderly
  • promoting industry and business for the public benefit.

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