The new Charities Amendment Act 2023 (the Act) amends the Charities Act 2005. Some of its changes are already in force, having been introduced in July and October this year, while other changes come into force from 5 July 2024. In this two part update we outline the latest changes that apply as of 5 October 2023.
Changes to The Definition, Age and Role of Officers
A key amendment is the expansion of the definition of “officer” under section 4 of the Act to include any persons who has significant influence over the entities substantial decisions, including management or administration. So, an officer can be a trustee, members of board or governing body (if it has one) or persons that occupy other positions (such as a chief executive or treasure) if that position allows them to exercise substantial influence. Officers, according to the new Act, will also include so called “deemed directors”, being persons with whose direction or instruction the entity is accustomed or required to act. As the definition of officer has been expanded, existing and new charities should take care to have clear distinctions between those in governance and management, as well being cautious about the influence of those in management positions.
Furthermore, s 13(1)(e) introduces a new requirement that charities must at any time have at least one officer 18 years of age of older. Also, section 36A outlines the role of an officer of a charity is to “delivery its charitable purpose” and “comply with its obligations” under the Charities Act or other Acts. This is clearly in addition to other fiduciary duties that are already required of officers.
Section 36C gives the Charities Registration Board the ability to disqualify a person, for not more than five years, from being an officer of a charity by notice. The notice can be by email and the Board must publish notice on their website as soon as practicable. Prior to this new Act, the Charities Registration Board, did not have the ability to directly remove an officer and instead would need to deregister the entity. An officer can be disqualified if they have:
- Engaged in serious wrongdoing in connection with the entity; or
- Failed significantly or persistently to meet their obligations under the Charities Act or other enactments.
This gives the Charities Board considerable power to ban officers of charities and the circumstances in which these powers will be used is uncertain. Further, the new provision does not yet require the Board to provide the Registrar of Incorporated Societies a copy of a banning order which was previously required.
Consult on Significant Guidelines
Section 12A of the Act has been introduced a new process which requires the chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs to consult with persons or representatives they consider “reasonable to consult before issuing significant guidelines or recommendations on the best practice to be observed by charities, officers, and persons concerned with the management or administration of charities.”  This appears to provide accountability for decision making but it may mean that non-significant guidelines or recommendations need no consultation. Further, it is only a requirement to consult.
The new section 13A provides all charities must remain qualified for registration. To remain qualified, charities must maintain income for charitable purposes, have qualified officers and have and maintain rules. This restates some of the key requirements already set out in s 13 but includes the requirement to have and maintain rules.
Extended Timeframes for Providing Information
Section 18 of the Act was amended to increase the time frame in which charities can make submissions when the chief executive is considering whether they qualify for registration. This was increased from 20 working days to 2 months and also includes the time frame that an application will be treated as withdrawn if there is no response to the notice. If the Charities Board declines an application for registration or deregisters of a charity, they must now publish their decision and their reasons for it as soon as practicable on their website.
Requirement to Review Governance Procedures
Charities are now required to review their governance procedures every three years under the s 42G of the Act. In this review charities must consider whether their procedures, within or beyond its rules, are fit for purpose and help the charity achieve its charitable purpose and comply with the Charities Acts’ requirements. How this new duty works in practice is unclear as these terms are neither defined nor explained. However, frequently reviewing and updating rules and procedures is good practice for charities to adopt to ensure safe, smooth and efficient management and operation.
To read part II to this article, click here
This article is general in nature and is not a substitute for legal advice. You should talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. Reproduction is permitted with prior approval and credit being given back to the source.
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 Charities Amendment Act 2023, s 12A.