We hope you have found our article on the new Charities Act useful. The first wave of changes being introduced by the new legislation came into force at the end of October 2022. After more recent changes came into force, we thought it would be helpful to flag up the change in relation to charity names.
What is the current position regarding charity names?
At present, the Register of Charities contains the formal, legal name of all registered charities. The Charity Commission also permits registered charities to register ‘working names’, such as abbreviated names used by the charity, or acronyms by which the charity is known. Currently the Charity Commission has the power to direct a registered charity to change its formal name if, for example, the name is the same as (or too similar to) that of another charity (amongst other things). The Commission may also refuse to register a new charity on the same grounds.
While working names currently have no legal status, and the Charity Commission has no specific power to stop a charity using a particular working name, in practice the Commission does also consider the working names on its register when deciding whether or not to register new charity names (both formal names and working names).
What is changing?
The Charities Act 2022 extends the Charity Commission’s powers in relation to formal names to cover working names as well. Working names are thus being given equivalent status to formal names. This means that going forward the Commission will be able, for example, to require a charity to change its working name. In addition, the new legislation further extends the Commission’s power to cover all charities, both registered and unregistered.
Oddly, the new legislation doesn’t appear to impose a requirement for registered charities to register their working names, however. It will also be interesting to see how the Commission exercises its new powers with regard to unregistered charities, who of course currently have no mechanism to register either formal names or working names. In addition, the twelve month window within which the Commission must currently issue a name change direction is also being removed going forward, which arguably extends the reach of the Commission much further.
The Charity Commission’s role in adjudicating the use of charity names runs in parallel to other legal mechanisms for protecting your charity’s name, such as registration of a trade mark or taking legal action to defend an unregistered trade mark.
Our practical advice?
The Charity Commission has not yet issued new guidance in relation to charity names – we cannot yet advise on how the Commission will deal with existing registered working names, given the new legislation will seemingly capture unregistered working names going forward. However, for our clients who are registered charities, we believe it is worth registering any working names you use now, just in case existing registered working names are given any form of priority by the Commission when the changes come in. It is therefore worth having a think about what names you currently use, including abbreviated names and acronyms, and seek to register them as working names. It may be that the Commission refuses to do so, particularly as regards acronyms or ‘generic’ names, but we recommend testing the waters.
For those of our clients who are currently unregistered, there are many benefits to registering with the Charity Commission (please see our articles here and here) and the implementation of the new provisions for charity names adds another. As the Commission is being given jurisdiction over the formal and working names of unregistered charities going forward, it may become increasingly difficult for unregistered charities to protect their name, particularly if the Commission does use registered working names as the record against which it tests new charity name registration applications.