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Early review of Charities Act Wanted

Community and Voluntary Sector representatives want early review of Charities Act

Community and voluntary sector representatives are supporting calls for an early review of the 2005 Charities Act following a round of deregistration decisions that have highlighted the archaic definition of the term ‘charitable’.

Labour’s Deputy Leader and Social Development spokesperson Hon. Annette King has called for an early review of the Act following recent Charities Commission deregistration decisions and lack of registrations of certain organisations.

Members of ComVoices, a network of community and voluntary sector organisations, support the call saying there is widespread Sector concern about the way a 400-year-old definition of charitable is being interpreted for New Zealand communities in 2010.

Dave Henderson, National Coordinator of the Association of NGOs of Aotearoa (ANGOA) said a first principles review is provided for in the Charities Act for 2015: “Given the impact of recent interpretations of the Act by the Charities Commission, there is a need for this review to be brought forward.”

Organisations such as Greenpeace and the National Council of Women are just two of the organisations to be hit by the narrow application of “charitable”.

Elizabeth Bang, National President of the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ), said the decisions had wide reaching implications for organisations.

“The rulings mean that affected organisations automatically lose their tax-exempt status. While they can still apply to Inland Revenue to keep tax deductibility for their donors there is ambiguity about this process.”

Ros Rice, Executive Director of the New Zealand Council of Social Services said: “The concern is that these decisions are not about ‘how’ these organisations are being run, but ‘what’ they are doing. For those in the Sector who worked with the Government-of-the-day in developing this legislation, this was not the intent of the Act.”

Tina Reid, Executive Director of the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations said Sector organisations believed the legal definition of “charitable" needed to respect the ability of people to come together and work towards all manner of social, cultural, economic and environmental causes.

“It seems the outdated definition of “charitable” is creating issues for the Commission and how to apply it in a modern New Zealand context and that needs to be addressed now,” she said.

Wendi Wicks, national policy researcher for DPA, an umbrella organisation representing people with disabilities, said most Sector organisations had a responsibility for issue-level advocacy and representing such issues in the public and political arenas.

“Communities rely on government agencies engaging with the advocacy side of Sector organisations to inform their own thinking and policy development. To stifle it in any way is contrary to good public policy and ultimately hurts communities.”

Ric Odom, Chief Executive Officer of YMCA New Zealand said the loss of charitable status has serious implications for community organisations, impacting on both their funding and public credibility: “Funding from philanthropic bodies and even public entities is often dependent on charitable status, and in the extremely competitive funding environment this is a major issue for organisations who do not have registration, particularly at a time when the Government is looking to stop Consumer Price I increases from Budget 2011,” Mr Odom said.


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