Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Charity Definition:

A corporate non-profit body holdings property in trust for educational, religious, anti-poverty or some other purpose beneficial to the community.

Related Terms: Gift, Endowment

A 1601 law, The Stature of Charitable Uses defined a charity. Though the statute itself was rescinded 50 years ago, the description of a charity is still referred to today:

"The relief of aged, impotent and poor people; the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools and scholars in universities; the repair of bridges, ports havens, causeways, churches, sea-banks and highways; the education and preferment of orphans; the relief, stock or maintenance of houses of correction; the marriages of poor maids, the supportation, aid and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen and persons decayed; the relief or redemption of prisoners or captives; and the aid or ease of any poor inhabitants concerning payment of fifteens, setting out of soldiers and other taxes."

In Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel, the British High Court determined that there were four categories of charities: the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion and a catch-all, any other purpose beneficial to the community.

Charities hold their assets in trust for the purpose for which they were created. For example, a church might describe it charitable purposes as maintaining a place of worship, missionary organizations, social outreach and religious fellowship.

In England, in 2006, a new definition of a charity was published by the government in the Charities Act 2006, as follows:

"... the prevention or relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; the advancement of health or the saving of lives; the advancement of citizenship or community development; the advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science; the advancement of amateur sport; the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity; the advancement of environmental protection or improvement; the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage; the advancement of animal welfare; the promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown, or of the efficiency of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services (and) ... any purposes that may reasonably be regarded as analogous to, or within the spirit of, any purposes falling within any of (the above)."


  • Charities Act 2006, Public Acts of the United Kingdom, 2006 Chapter 50
  • Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel 1891 AC 531
  • Income Tax Act, Revised Statutes of Canada 1985, Chapter 1 (5th Supp.)

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