Commissioner’s Column – 9 August 2018

It was our pleasure last Friday to host the ACNC Regulator’s Day conference in Melbourne. This year’s discussion was titled “Now We Are Five”, and asked questions of the current state of the ACNC as a regulator, as well as providing an opportunity to share insights into our approach to compliance, legal decisions, registration and more.

Attendees included members of our Professional Users Group and Sector Users Group, two consultative bodies of sector leaders and professional advisors who provide the ACNC with invaluable expertise on matters of procedure and our interactions with the broader charity sector.

It was also wonderful to again join with members of the Charity Law Association of Australia and New Zealand (CLAANZ), after their annual conference was held in Melbourne the day prior. My speech from their event, discussing the testing of public benefit in charity law, is now available to read on the ACNC website.

I hope all who attended found the experience both enjoyable and valuable.

The importance of safeguarding and complaints handling in charities

For those following charity news from overseas, you would be familiar with issues that have come to light in several aid organisations based in the United Kingdom. Large charities including Oxfam and Save The Children have been implicated in sexual abuse scandals while providing overseas aid to countries in need. As a result, the UK has seen a sharp increase in reports of inappropriate behaviour in aid charities, and charities are now strengthening their safeguarding policies to rebuild trust.

I’d like to remind all charities of their obligations to beneficiaries who may be in the care of your charity. The ACNC Governance Standards require charities to remain charitable, operate lawfully, and be run in an accountable and responsible way – and this includes ensuring your charity is providing the support and protection required for beneficiaries, particularly those who may be in vulnerable circumstances.

All charities should review their processes and policies when it comes to protecting beneficiaries. For those looking for advice, the team at Our Community and Moores Legal have created a free Child Safety Toolkit, which provides best practice governance advice and recommendations for charities implementing programs involving children. This advice can extend more generally to the procedures required to safeguard all vulnerable people.

Additionally, your organisation should have strong complaints handling policies, ensuring that people in vulnerable circumstances have a safe and confidential way to raise complaints. Justice Connect have produced a guide to complaints handling, available free on their website at nfplaw.org.au/complainthandling.

2017 Annual Information Statements – 90% submitted

Ninety per cent of charities have now submitted their 2017 Annual Information Statement. I’d like to thank these charities for showing their commitment to transparency and accountability. The data provided is now available for donors to access on the Charity Register.

For the small group of charities that have failed to complete their 2017 Annual Information Statement prior to the due date, I urge you to complete it as soon as possible. Charities that fail to submit their Annual Information Statement may be subject to compliance action, including financial penalties or even revocation of charity status.

Information about the 2017 Annual Information Statement, including our handy step-by-step guide and checklist, is available on our website at acnc.gov.au/2017AIS.

Is your charity entitled to a refund of franking credits from the ATO?

Registered charities that receive dividends or distributions from investments may be entitled to a franking credit refund from our colleagues at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

I encourage you to check your charity’s dividend or distribution statements, if applicable, to see if you have received any franked dividends and the amount of franking credits.

To be eligible for a refund, your charity will need to be endorsed as income tax exempt or a deductible gift recipient by the ATO. You will also need to meet certain residency requirements. To find out if you’re eligible, or for more information on how to apply, visit ato.gov.au/non-profit or call the ATO NFP Advice line on 1300 130 248.

Good governance must apply to all charities, regardless of legal structure

Approaches to governance have generated a great deal of interest in the financial press recently, with extensive debate on the place of ASX Corporate Governance Principles. Without wading into that debate, I would like to note that the ACNC revised our Governance for Good publication earlier this year, available now on the ACNC website.

The guide describes governance as the processes, activities and relationships that make sure your charity is effectively and properly run. The principles of good governance in charities apply, regardless of the legal structure adopted by a charity. It is not true to say that adopting a more sophisticated legal structure such as a Company Limited by Guarantee leads to better governance.

Whatever the legal structure, every charity must meet the ACNC Governance Standards. The standards are applied as a set of principles rather than prescriptive rules, meaning that a charity can choose how to comply – as long as it can demonstrate that the approach is appropriate to the charity’s situation. And that applies to whether the charity operates as an unincorporated association, an incorporated association, a trust, a company or other legal structure.

For more information about governance, visit acnc.gov.au/GovernanceStandards.

AASB release new resources for not-for-profit entities

The Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB) has released new FAQs, designed to provide not-for-profit organisations with a better understanding of the upcoming changes to AASB accounting standards.

The changes to AASB 9 (Financial Instruments), AASB 15 (Revenue from Contracts with Customers), AASB 16 (Leases) and AASB 1058 (Income of Not-for-Profit Entities) will mandatorily apply to impacted organisations from this year.

For more information, visit the AASB website at aasb.gov.au.

Next free webinar: Holding an Annual General Meeting

Our next free webinar for charities is quite timely – advice for holding an annual general meeting (AGM). Thousands of registered charities will soon be required to hold their AGM, many of which will be attended by new board members.

I encourage all charities with new board members to sign up for the webinar, which will be hosted by our Education team on 21 August 2018, at midday AEST. Sign up now to ensure your spot is reserved. Visit acnc.gov.au/webinars for more.

Best wishes,

The Hon. Dr Gary Johns

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