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Charities bill tabled in the House

New legislation regulating the Island's charities has been tabled in the House of Assembly.

The Charities Bill 2014 is based largely on the UK's Charities Act 2011 and, if approved, would repeal and replace the existing Charities Act 1978.

While the 1978 legislation requires that charities have a “charitable purpose”, the new legislation elaborates by listing those which help the advancement of education, religion, the arts, sport, environmental protection and animal welfare, among others.

It also elaborates on the required public benefit provided by the charity, and requires that the Registrar General develop and publish guidelines as to the operation of the public benefit requirement.

The guidelines are hoped to make it easier for the Charity Commissioners for Bermuda and the Registrar determine who should get charity status while informing potential charities of the guidelines by which they will be measured.

The legislation also requires registered charities to prepare and provide more information for the Registrar on an annual basis.

Under the bill all charities are required to keep their accounting records for at least seven years from the end of the financial year in which they were made.

The trustees of registered charities must prepare and submit a statement of all accounts within six months of the end of the financial year but that period can be extended by six months if the Registrar can find a compelling reason.

Charity trustees must also prepare annual reports on the activities and other pertinent information of the charity, and preserve any statement of accounts and annual report for seven years.

If evidence of misconduct or mismanagement is discovered, the Registrar may take “remedial or protective action” or cancel the charity's registration.

However, the affected charity can appeal against such decisions to the Minister and the Supreme Court.

The Registrar can also launch investigations into registered charities but he must have a reasonable suspicion that an exempted charity is engaging in illegal action before he is allowed to do so.

The bill also sets out several offences, including supplying false or misleading information to the Registrar, or altering, suppressing, concealing or destroying any document which the person is or is liable to be required to produce to the Registrar.

Those found guilty of such offences can be fined up to $5,000 on summary conviction.

If convicted on indictment, the maximum fine doubles to $10,000 and the perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to two years.

Chairman of the Charity Commissioners of Bermuda Richard Ambrosio said charities played a vital role in Bermuda, providing the public with valuable services, and the new legislation is hoped to further improve the public's confidence in the sector.

“Although the new legislation does place a strong emphasis on public benefit, this does not actually represent a major change in the law, since public benefit has always been a requirement under the 1978 Act,” Mr Ambrosio said.

“The new Act also gives the Registrar General and the Commissioners new tools to ensure more accountability and transparency within the charitable sector.

“We believe it is important that donation-giving members of the public continue to have confidence in the work done by charities.

“Going forward, the Commissioners hope to bring transparency to the way we perform our regulatory work, and it is our intention to publish guidance and engage with the public on matters affecting charities.”

Sessions House (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 05, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated March 04, 2014 at 10:53 pm)

Charities bill tabled in the House

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