A state of flux in public benefit across the UK, Ireland and Europe
Charity Law and Practice Review
Key Haven Publications
© Key Haven Publications Limited
The term ‘public benefit’ has generated lively parliamentary, legal and journalistic debate in recent years, not least in relation to the tax privileges enjoyed by fee-charging independent schools and the merits or otherwise of religious organisations. One might be forgiven for believing that it describes a brand new quango-administered test of charitable status, which puts relief of poverty at the heart of charity and which must be passed by prospective and established charities alike. Comprising words which are easy enough to understand, the term might also be seen as a rare but welcome piece of ‘plain English’ in an often alien legal language, but appearances can be misleading. ‘Public benefit’ is a term which deserves to be taken seriously. The term is not unique to England and Wales, but also has a defining role in charity law in other jurisdictions, many of which have joined the growing wave of legislative reform by introducing statutory definitions of charity based on ‘public benefit’. This paper will first explore the meaning of the term in England and Wales and then ask whether it bears the same meaning in the jurisdictions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland, before looking further afield to the European Commission’s proposal for a new legal entity for public benefit purposes, the ‘European Foundation’. Whilst a consistent definition and integrated approach to charitable status and regulation undoubtedly has its merits, not least for charities active in more than one jurisdiction, it seems that fragmentation, or disintegration, may better describe the present landscape in the UK and Ireland. We must wait and see whether the European Foundation can unite those jurisdictions by delivering a coherent alternative.[...]
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Key Haven Publications via the URL in this record.
Vol. 16, pp. 163 - 188