Charitable purpose

There is no legal definition of ‘charitable purpose’ and the meaning of this term has been put together from Court over the years. These decisions have reflected changing perceptions of social needs and attitudes.

Charitable purposes fall under four broad groups:

The relief of financial hardship

Financial hardship is not defined by a specified amount of money which the beneficiaries have, although the person must be in genuine financial need. Relief of financial hardship includes helping people who are suffering from the effects of old age, sickness or from a disability, and in each case, there is also financial need. Most charities for the relief of sickness fall under this category because sickness is often related to poverty or inability to pay for treatment.

Charities may relieve hardship in many different ways, for instance:

  • by giving money to beneficiaries
  • by providing food, clothing or housing; or
  • by giving advisory or other services to those in need.

Charities can also provide support for other organisations which give help to people suffering hardship. The hardship being suffered does not have to be long-­term.

The advancement of education

The advancement of education is not limited to formal education at schools, colleges or universities. It can also include:

  • Playgroups
  • organisations which provide work-related training (for example, nursing or engineering)
  • research institutions

Education in the charitable sense cannot include the subjects that have no educational value. If research is being done, it needs to be carried out in an objective and impartial way and the useful results must be made available, or accessible, to the public. Groups, organisations or institutions cannot be conducted for personal gain.

The advancement of religion

In general, no distinction is made between one religion or another. There is a general assumption that the advancement of religion is for the public benefit. For the advancement of religion to be charitable, a religion (with a few exceptions), has to:

  • be founded on a belief and reverence for a god or gods;
  • promote spiritual teaching and the dissemination of its doctrines; and
  • promote itself in religious rites, observances and services.


The advancement of religion can include the provisions and upkeep of places of worship, paying ministers or priests, and holding services.

Other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community

Purposes which benefit the community and are considered to be charitable include:

  • the relief of old age, sickness or disability, where there is no financial need
  • promoting racial harmony
  • the resettlement and rehabilitation of offenders and drug abusers
  • the conservation and protection of the natural environment and endangered species (plants and animals
  • providing help for victims of natural or civil disasters
  • the provision of recreational facilities which are open to everyone (for example, a sports centre)
  • the provision of recreational facilities for particular beneficiary groups such as people with disabilities or the elderly
  • promoting industry and business for the public benefit.
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