The Charities Act 2006 provides a clear definition of charity with the emphasis on public benefit. At the heart of the Act is a new statutory definition of charity, based on a list of charitable purposes, and the principle of charities being for public benefit. The Act removes a long-standing presumption of public benefit for charities for the advancement of education, advancement of religion and the relief of poverty. This means that all charities will have to be able to demonstrate public benefit.
The Charity Commission, as independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, will interpret the public benefit requirement in the light of case law, modern conditions and the removal of the presumption of public benefit. The Charity Commission issued draft guidance on the principles of public benefit for consultation in May 2007, and received over 900 responses. The Commission will publish its final public benefit guidance in January 2008. It will follow this with the development of specific guidance for groups of charities likely to be most affected—including the independent school sector. The relevant provisions of the Act are expected to come into force in spring 2008.