If you are operating a not for profit organisation, it could be beneficial to register the organisation as a charity. 

A charity can operate as any of the business units described above.

  • Charities exist to benefit the public, not specific individuals,
  • There are, currently, over 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales. 
Charities pay reduced business rates and receive tax breaks.

For example:

  • Limited VAT relief, 
  • Gift Aid on donations and
  • Exemption from tax on any charitable surpluses, 

A note of caution

Tax relief is restricted in what they can do and how they work.

Legal and Regulatory Obligations

There is a greater level of scrutiny, compliance and transparency regarding charities and the main considerations are that:

  • Charity trustees (effectively the board of directors) are normally unpaid volunteers. 
    • In limited circumstances they can be paid, on approval from the Charity Commission.  
    • Charities can’t usually benefit anyone connected with the charity, for example giving work to a trustee’s family member or company
  • Charities are restricted to do things the law recognises as being charitable. 
  • They need to satisfy a public benefit test, which means that :
    • The benefits it provides can be identified
    • It benefits a section - or the whole - of the general public

Avoid mixing charitable and non-charitable work

Charities are there to provide a public benefit and need to be careful regarding the mix of charitable and non-charitable work they do.

Risk Avoidance Strategies

  • Typically, charities will establish separate trading companies to carry out commercial activities, and then transfer any profits back to the main charity e.g. via donation or Gift Aid.  
  • Charities can’t take part in certain political activities, such as campaigning for a change in government.
  • Registered charities must provide public, up-to-date information about their activities and finances.


  • Charities are publicly recognised as working for social good, which can help with fundraising.
  • Charities can benefit from tax relief.


  • There are restrictions on the type of work the charity can do.
  • There can be restrictions on reclaiming VAT.

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