Part 3: About the 'descriptions of purposes'

The Charities Act lists 13 'descriptions of purposes'.

L_Symbol.jpg The 'descriptions of purposes' is a list of broad headings that a purpose must fall under to be a charitable purpose.

Each description serves as a general heading under which a range of different charitable purposes fall.

The list of descriptions of purposes, taken as a whole with the range of purposes that fall under each description, covers everything recognised, or which may be recognised, as charitable in England and Wales.

The 13 descriptions of purposes

The 13 descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act are:

(a) the prevention or relief of poverty

(b)the advancement of education

(c) the advancement of religion

(d) the advancement of health or the saving of lives

(e) the advancement of citizenship or community development

(f) the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science

(g) the advancement of amateur sport

(h) the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity

(i) the advancement of environmental protection or improvement

(j) the relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage

(k) the advancement of animal welfare

(l) the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown, or of the efficiency of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services

(m) any other purposes currently recognised as charitable or which can be recognised as charitable by analogy to, or within the spirit of, purposes falling within (a) to (l) or any other purpose recognised as charitable under the law of England and Wales

The Charities Act does not define what each of these descriptions of purposes mean. However, it does provide some definitions, or partial definitions, for some of the descriptions. These are set out in Annex D.

L_Symbol.jpg Where any of the terms used in the descriptions of purposes has a particular meaning in charity law in England and Wales, the term must be taken as having the same meaning where it appears in the descriptions of purposes.

For more on what each of these descriptions mean, and the sorts of purposes that fall within them, see:

Using the wording of the descriptions as charitable purposes

It may be possible for your charity to adopt as its purpose the wording used in one of the descriptions of purposes where that wording makes it clear:

  • that what is being advanced is clearly a purpose that is recognised as being charitable for the public benefit
  • how that purpose is to be achieved (such as 'the relief of poverty by….')

In some cases, the wording used in the descriptions of purposes can have more than one meaning, and not all of those meanings are purposes that the law has recognised as charitable or as capable of being for the public benefit.

Where this is the case we will let you know whether that wording can be used as the charity's purpose and whether it needs to be made clearer.

Deciding whether your purpose 'falls within' the list of descriptions of purposes

The Commission decides whether your purpose 'falls within' one of the descriptions of purposes by looking at:

whether your purpose is something that the courts or the Charity Commission recognise as falling within:

  • relevant case law or principles derived from relevant case law
  • any definition of the description that appears in the Charities Act

New and novel purposes

Sometimes it is not obvious whether a purpose does or does not fall within the descriptions of purposes, for example where a purpose may be new or novel.

We will let you know as appropriate if this is an issue with your organisation's purpose.

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