What are the precise requirements for setting up a UK charity aimed at international aid?

11 June 2024

In the generous spirit of giving, many of you may have contemplated establishing a charity, specifically for international aid. Setting up a charity in the UK comes with its own set of rules and regulations. This article aims to guide you through the requirements, governing legalities, and other considerations involved in this noble endeavour.

Understanding the Charitable Purposes

Before undertaking the journey of setting up a charity for international aid, it's crucial to understand the specific purposes that the UK's Charity Commission recognises as charitable. These include the prevention or relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, promotion of health, and other causes beneficial to the community.

Operating in the sphere of international aid typically falls under the remit of preventing or relieving poverty, or promoting health. It's essential to clearly define your charitable objectives within these recognised categories to ensure your organisation qualifies as a charity in the eyes of the law.

The Role of Trustees in a Charity

Once you've established your charitable purposes, the next step is to appoint trustees. Trustees are individuals who have the authority to make decisions about the charity's management and direction. A charity must have a minimum of three unconnected trustees to ensure checks and balances. Importantly, trustees must also meet the legal requirements to act in this capacity. For instance, they should not have a history of bankruptcy or disqualification as company directors.

The trustees are responsible for creating the charity's governing document, which outlines the rules about how the charity will operate. This includes details about the charity's name, objectives, trustee appointment process, and how meetings will be held. The governing document serves as a legal reference point for the charity's activities.

Registering with the Charity Commission

Once your trustees are in place and your governing document is drafted, your charity must be registered with the Charity Commission. This is the regulatory body for charities in England and Wales. If your charity's income is over £5,000 or if it is a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO), it must be registered with the Commission.

The registration process involves submitting your governing document, details of your trustees, evidence of your funds, and a demonstration of how your charity meets the public benefit requirement. The public benefit requirement ensures that your charity's activities have a positive impact on the public, or a sufficient section of it.

Funding Your Charity

Once registered, your charity will need to secure funding. This can be acquired through various sources like public donations, grant funding from governments or other organisations, corporate sponsorship, and fundraising events.

It's worth noting that if your charity receives funds from outside the UK, there might be additional legal and visa requirements to consider. For instance, if you employ a foreign worker using funds from overseas, you may need to sponsor their visa. This will require your charity to have a sponsorship licence from the UK government.

Conducting Business and Activities Abroad

Finally, as your charity will be aimed at international aid, it is likely that you will conduct business and activities abroad. It's key to understand the legal requirements for working in the countries you plan to assist.

You must ensure your charity complies with both UK law and the law of the country where you operate. For instance, you may need to register your charity in that country, or comply with their regulations about sending aid.

Furthermore, if you employ local workers or UK citizens abroad, you must understand and abide by local employment laws and visa requirements. It's advisable to seek legal counsel to navigate these complexities.

While setting up an international aid charity in the UK can be a complex process, it's a rewarding endeavour that can provide invaluable assistance to those in need around the world. By understanding and adhering to the requirements outlined above, you can ensure your charity is built on a solid and compliant foundation.

Ensuring Intellectual Property and Data Protection

As a charity geared towards international aid, you will likely accumulate a significant amount of intellectual property and data. This includes your charity's branding, website, written content, and any databases you create to manage your work.

Your charity's intellectual property is vital to its image and reputation. It helps distinguish your charity from others and can play an integral part in your fundraising efforts. It's necessary to protect your intellectual property through trademarking or copyrighting to prevent others from using your hard-earned reputation for their benefit.

Likewise, your charity will handle sensitive data daily, including personal details of your supporters, beneficiaries, and charity workers. You are legally required to protect this data in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. This includes ensuring you have the necessary consent to collect and use personal data, storing it securely, and only using it for the purposes for which it was collected.

Moreover, you must also be transparent with those whose data you are processing. They have the right to know what data you are collecting, why, and how it is being used. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) provides useful guidelines and resources to help charities comply with these requirements.

Dealing with Conflicts of Interest and Maintaining Good Practice

A conflict of interest arises when a trustee or charity worker's personal or professional interest could interfere with their ability to make unbiased decisions for the charity. Conflicts of interest can harm a charity's reputation, so it's crucial to have a policy in place to identify and handle them appropriately.

Your charity's governing document should include a clause that outlines how to deal with conflicts of interest. This might involve the relevant person declaring their interest and removing themselves from discussions or decisions related to it. The Charity Commission's guidance on conflicts of interest can help you develop a suitable policy.

Maintaining good practice involves ensuring your charity is managed effectively and ethically. This includes treating your charity workers fairly, being transparent in your financial dealings, and continually striving to achieve your charitable objectives. Good practice can enhance your charity's reputation and contribute to its success.


Setting up a UK charity aimed at international aid is indeed a noble and rewarding endeavour. However, as you have seen, it requires comprehensive understanding and adherence to certain regulations. From defining your charitable purposes and registering with the Charity Commission to developing a strong governing document and managing funding, trustees and charity workers must ensure the charity operates within the confines of the law.

Being mindful of intellectual property, data protection, conflicts of interest, and maintaining good practice will help your charity build a solid reputation and create a positive impact. As long as your charity meets the public benefit requirement and contributes to the relief of poverty or promotion of health, you can make a significant difference in communities worldwide.

The road to setting up a charity may be intricate, but with the right guidance and commitment, you can successfully navigate the journey. Remember, the goal is to establish a charity that not only operates effectively in the UK but also extends its reach to those in need around the globe. With structured planning, compliance with legal requirements, and a passion for making a difference, your charity is sure to succeed.