The Charities Regulator has called for improved legislation to create what it has described as "a level playing field" for all charities regardless of their legal form.

At the Regulator's strategy launch for 2022-2024, the Chief Executive said charities that are companies are exempt from certain provisions of the Charity Act 2009, and this needed to change.

Helen Martin said certain types of charities - based purely on their legal form - are excluded from or exempt from certain provisions under the Act.

When schools are excluded, 55% of all registered charities are companies.

However, the Chief Executive pointed out that companies do not have to comply with the requirement to "keep proper books" under the Charities Act, even though they must do so under the Companies Act.

Ms Martin says this "poses a real difficulty" because not all charities are subject to "the full ambit" of the 2009 act, as they should be.

"Where it becomes an issue is where we want to take a proportionate approach to matters," she said.

"In particular cases there would be steps we would like to take, and they just wouldn't be available to us because we can't apply the particular provisions to 55% of the registered charities that are there."

The Minister of State for Community Development and Charities, who attended the launch of the strategy, said there was an eagerness to progress the Bill to amend the 2009 Act.

Joe O'Brien said that while the Charities Regulator was doing "a very good job" with its powers, it needed more, to bring further transparency to the sector.

He said not all charities were submitting the full accounts because of a loophole in the law.

"That's one of the key things we want to sort out in the Charities (Amendment) Bill, which is progressing, I'd like to see it going to Government in this term," he said.

While he acknowledged that the legislative programme is busy, he said it was important that the Bill be progressed so the public can see that the sector is well regulated.

As part of its 2022-2024 Strategy, the Regulator aims to introduce a classification standard for charities.

A function of the Charities Regulator is to have a public register to enable people to look at the work of charities.

While the information is available on its website, there is concern that the categories are broad.

The standard classification aims to give a "true indication" of what a charity does.

Instead of a charity categorising itself as "relieving poverty" the classification will explain if it, for example, provides homeless services or debt advice.

A public consultation on standard classification will begin shortly according to the Regulator.

When it is introduced, according to Ms Martin, it will make the register a lot more usable for all stakeholders.

Asked about investigations into Charities that are currently underway by the Regulator, she expressed hope that a number of them will be closed this year.

She said the findings of investigations were important for "key learnings" of all charities.

She added that "the vast majority of charities are doing an amazing job," particularly during the pandemic.

However, she said there is a small number that "could do a lot better and are certainly falling short of the kind of governance standards we'd expect."

"It's our job is to safeguard the public interest, and it is really important that we hold charities accountable where they absolutely don't meet those standards, and we absolutely will do that."

Benefacts to wind-up company in February

Meanwhile, the non-profit data analysis company Benefacts has announced that its 7-year project to transform the transparency and digital accessibility of Ireland's €14bn non-profit sector will cease in February.

The Company said it made the decision following the "termination of support" from its lead Government funder, the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform.

While it said other public and philanthropic funding is available, an alternative funding coalition cannot be assembled without another Government department taking over from the Department in the lead funding role, and it said, "no one is prepared to do this".

In a statement the Board of Benefacts said it had no alternative but to wind up the company and the free public website will be taken offline on 14 February.

Established in 2014, Benefacts provided Ireland’s only database of civil society, non-profit and voluntary organisations in Ireland.

Since its establishment in 2015, Benefacts has received a total of €8.9m in funding.

€6.35m of that was from the State and €2.54m was philanthropic and other income.

In addition to providing specialised data services to the non-profit sector, the State, and others, Benefacts sais its site which was updated daily represented "a unique compendium of Ireland’s 34,000 civil society organisations".

It offered a quarterly feed to the Central Statistics Office including data about the €14bn non-profit sector into Ireland’s National Accounts.

Since 2017, it provided an annual free public report on the entire sector, with analysis of a sector that attracts nearly 8% of current exchequer spending annually.

It also provided sectoral reports on charities and philanthropy in Ireland.

Chairman Tom Boland said that prior to Benefacts:, "There was no data on which to build a reliable picture of Ireland’s highly diverse €14bn sector of more than 34,000 non-profit organisations and their 165,000 employees.

"Benefacts has changed this, providing oversight and analysis on the vibrant and diverse sector, which attracts about 8% of current exchequer expenditure annually," he added.

According to the Benefacts statement, the Department of Rural & Community Development is exploring options for the establishment of a centralised database which may enable them to achieve "a long-held goal for public policy-makers in Ireland", in the form of "timely and accurate information on funding provided by the State to the community, voluntary, charity and social economy sectors".