Not-for-profit Law
Legal help for community organisations

Registering as a charity

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An organisation is a 'registered charity' if it is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The regulatory functions relating to charities for which the ACNC is responsible were previously administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Registered charity example acnc.gov.au/charityregister

It is often necessary to register as a charity to access charitable tax concessions (discussed further on our Tax page). There are other benefits to registering as a charity, such as being listed on the public register of charities and being able to use the 'Registered Charity Tick' logo (right), which can encourage public trust in your organisation.

In general, being registered as a charity comes with extra reporting obligations. However, in some instances, reporting will be reduced (for example, for companies limited by guarantee that are registered as charities). See Charity Reporting for more information.

Definition of 'charity'

Since 1 January 2014, Australia has a statutory definition for charity at a federal level. Before this, charity was defined in case law (judge made law) and was difficult to identify and apply. To meet the statutory definition of charity, a group must have charitable purposes (defined in the legislation) and operate for the public benefit. There are some exclusions.

The statutory definition is relevant when deciding whether an organisation is ’charitable’ under the federal law. This decision is most commonly made when a charity registers with the ACNC.

An organisation may be a charity but choose not to register as a charity with the ACNC. An unregistered charity could still be considered a charity under common law. When state-based laws refer to 'charity', they mean the common law (case law) understanding of the term. This common law understanding of ‘charity’ is often relevant at a state level to fundraising laws and state tax concessions (such as stamp duty exemptions).

Being a registered charity is a 'status' rather than a structure. It is also different to being not-for-profit. All registered charities are not-for-profit, but not all not-for-profit organisations are charities. In fact, there are many more not-for-profits than charities.

Diagram: 600,000 (approx) NFPs in Australia, 55,000 (approx) charities

How to get registered

To register with the ACNC, your group will need:

  • to be a not-for-profit (including having 'not-for-profit clauses' in its rules)
  • meet the definition of 'charity', and
  • have an ABN.

Not-for-profit Law has a fact sheet on Charities Law containing information about:

  • what is a registered charity and whether your organisation should become a registered charity
  • the regulation of charities and what charities are required to do, and
  • how to register as a charity and access associated tax concessions.

Extra Resources

Read more about the definition of charity and registering as a charity:

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