The Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland

Statements on Matters of Public Interest / Concern



Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland
64 Old Dundonald Road
Belfast BT16 0XS.

17th May 2005

Department for Social Development,
Voluntary & Community Unit,
3rd Floor, Lighthouse Building,
Gasworks Business Park,
Belfast BT7 2JB .

Dear Sir or Madam,

Review Of Charities Administration And Legislation

We are grateful for the opportunity to comment on the proposals for charity reform in Northern Ireland.

The Bahá'í Faith has a long history in Northern Ireland - the first Bahá'í was Joan Waring in Waringstown in 1913. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the UK was first established in 1923 and was subsequently registered as a charity. Since its formation it has always had a very active presence in Northern Ireland and it continues to operate in Northern Ireland although its registered office is in London. In addition many Bahá'í communities in Northern Ireland have established local Spiritual Assemblies, some of which have been recognised as being charitable by the Inland Revenue. We welcome the proposals for charity reform in the hope that they will simplify and clarify the process of gaining recognition as a charity.

Exemption for smaller charities

We note that the proposals state that "All Northern Ireland charities should be registered…" and go on to state that "…Most charities in England and Wales have to register… some are exempted… because they have income under £1000 (and no endowment or land)…" We feel that there is a need for an exemption for smaller charities in Northern Ireland.

Annual reporting by charities

The proposals contain various statements in relation to annual reporting:

"Details [of charities] should be updated, and accounts, etc. supplied, [to the Charity Commission] annually to ensure information is current"
"All charities would be required to prepare annual accounts and reports to be available on request by the Department or the public"
"Maintenance of the register (ensuring annual accounts etc are submitted)"
"There is no obligation to supply copies of accounts to the public or to the Department except where the Department has reasonable grounds to believe that charity property has been concealed…"
"…an end-of-year balance sheet… would be mandatory in all cases"

We agree that all charities, regardless of their size should produce an annual report in some form. We do not feel however that smaller charities should be required to routinely submit an annual report to the Department, however they should be available on request to the Department and to the Commission.

In relation to the form that annual reports and accounts should take there are again various suggestions in the proposals:

"As a minimum, an end-of-year balance sheet (or a statement of assets and liabilities in the case of smaller charities) would be mandatory in all cases."
"Below £25,000 - accruals or receipts and payments accounts, and independent examination."

We feel that charities with income less than £5000 and no endowments or land should only be required to produce a statement of income and expenditure and there should be no requirement for an independent examination. We feel that the burden imposed by such a requirement could not be justified by the very small risk that is posed by such small charities.

Resident trustee in Northern Ireland

Our key point relates however to the proposals for charities that are based outside of Northern Ireland. The proposals state that "charities based outside Northern Ireland, but operating in Northern Ireland, should be required to have at least one trustee resident in Northern Ireland."

This poses a particular problem for the Bahá'í community. The National Spiritual Assembly is the national governing body of the UK Bahá'í community. It is elected annually by delegates that are elected for that purpose by Bahá'ís across the UK.

The Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland acts as an agent of the National Spiritual Assembly in Northern Ireland. Although the membership of the Council is elected by the members of local Bahá'í Assemblies in Northern Ireland, it does not have a legal identity separate from the National Assembly - its finances are centrally administered by the National Assembly, it is governed by the National Assembly's Memorandum and Articles of Association and it is recognised as being charitable by virtue of the National Assembly's registration as a charity.

Given that the members of the National Assembly are elected it is not possible for us to ensure that there is a serving trustee who is resident in Northern Ireland.

However the National Assembly has in place very strong mechanisms that ensure that it remains very much in touch with issues in Northern Ireland:

- The Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland is a sub-structure of the National Assembly, and it's membership is elected annually by the members of the local Assemblies in Northern Ireland. The Council submits a quarterly report to the National Assembly.
- Members of the National Assembly regularly visit Northern Ireland for events such as the annual meeting of the Bahá'í institutions in Northern Ireland and for the annual Bahá'í Summer School.
- Members from all the Bahá'í institutions in Northern Ireland attend a regular annual meeting with the National Assembly.
- Five delegates from Northern Ireland attend the annual convention to elect the National Assembly and they participate in the discussion of the affairs of the community.
- In addition to the elected mechanisms there is a system of appointed Counsellors with Auxiliary Board members. There are two Auxiliary Board members with responsibility for Northern Ireland. One is currently resident in the region and the second is resident in the Republic of Ireland. The Auxiliary Board members report to the Counsellor who, in turn works closely with the National Assembly in the formulation of policy.

Because the administrative system within the Bahá'í community has such rigorous mechanisms that enable local influence in decision-making and governance we strongly feel that the National Spiritual Assembly should be exempted from the requirement to have a locally-resident trustee.

We hope you find these comments helpful

Yours sincerely,
Dr Keith Munro,
Secretary of the Bahá'í Council.


BACK arrow