The Charities Bill explained: Charity names

In this blog we look at provisions in the Charities Bill which will extend the Charity Commission’s powers in relation to charity names and, in particular, in relation to working names, possibly increasing the risk of challenges and name disputes.

What do you need to know?

Currently, the formal or legal name of all registered charities is entered on the Register of Charities and these charities must notify the Charity Commission of any change of name. The Commission also encourages (but does not require) registration of any ‘working names’ a charity uses and expects to be notified of any change to those.

The regulator has power to direct a charity to change its formal name in a range of circumstances.

In particular, the Charity Commission will not register a new charity and has power to direct a registered charity to change its formal name where its formal name:

(a) is ‘too like’ or the ‘same as’ the name of another charity (registered or not),

  • is likely to mislead the public about the purposes of the charity’s trusts or the activities it carries on in pursuit of them;
  • includes word or expression specified in regulations and that inclusion is likely to mislead the public about the charity’s status;
  • is likely to give the impression that the charity is connected with government department, local authority or other body of persons or individual when it is not;
  • is offensive.

A ‘too like’ name change direction can currently only be given within 12 months of the objectionable name being registered.

The Charities Bill will extend the Charity Commission’s powers in relation to names.

Importantly, the new rules will extend the Charity Commission’s current power to working names.

‘Working name’ is defined to capture any name under which the charity carries out its activities.

The new rules will apply to all charities, registered or not, for any charity law provisions relating to working names (not just the name change direction rules).

Under the new extended power, the Charity Commission will be able to direct a charity to change its working, as well as formal, name and the current twelve months’ time limit for the Commission to direct a ‘too like’ name change will be removed.

The Commission will be able to use its name change direction power against all charities, registered or not. It will be able to do so against exempt charities after consultation with any relevant alternative principal regulator for the affected charity.

New powers will also be given to the Commission to delay registration of a new charity, or the registration of a name change notification by an existing charity, for up to 60 days after giving a name change direction to the charity.

The Commission’s current power to refuse registration of a CIO where its formal name is the same as, or too like, the formal name of another charity (whether registered or not) will also be extended to working names. The Commission’s powers to refuse an application for conversion to CIO or an amalgamation of CIOs will be similarly extended.

Where a name change direction is issued against a charitable company by the Charity Commission, there will be a new power for the directors to pass a resolution to change the name (rather than a members’ resolution being required). This will make it easier for the affected charity to comply quickly.

What action should you take now?

For registered charities, you should check that your entry on the Register of Charities is correct and up to date for your formal name and also lists all your working names. This is important to comply with current registration requirements and the regulator’s expectations. This is also crucial to ensure that the name and any working names the charity uses are protected.

It will be particularly important to make sure all working names are up to date now, to give protection against subsequent registrations. Such pre-emptive registration may assist the charity when the Commission comes to consider use of its extended powers under the new rules. It also matters because the Commission considers existing names on the register when carrying out its monitoring and oversight of charities and their names and when considering new charity registrations under the current rules.

It would also be wise to think about your other name and brand protections, to ensure you have a strong platform to defend your charity’s rights.

What action do you need to factor into future plans?

It will be even more important to keep registrations up to date, so the Charity Commission is aware of your charity’s relevant name(s) and can take them into account when reviewing other name registration applications including changes to existing charity names and registrations of working names.

Name challenges and disputes may become more likely or more frequent, so overall name and brand issues awareness in your charity are important. Do keep your other name and brand protections up to date and under regular review.

As the Commission will have wider powers in relation to names, in future, when considering changing your charity’s name or adopting a new working name, additional care and checks will be needed against the formal and working names used by other charities, registered or not, which will need to be factored into your planning.

The Charities Bill, which came out of Lord Hodgson’s review of the Charities Act back in 2012 and the Law Commission’s report on Technical Issues in Charity Law in 2017, is intended to make life easier for charities by reducing regulation and clarifying grey areas in the law. In this new blog series, we untangle the new Bill to pull out the key points your charity will need to know, action now and plan for. Catch up with all the blogs in the series here.

If you have any questions on this, or how it might affect your charity’s plans, please get in touch with Mat Healey or Cecile Gillard. We will be happy to help.


This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of September 2, 2021.