What defines charity and how its principles apply to contemporary societal needs is receiving increasing attention. Legislators and regulators in several jurisdictions with English legal traditions are paying attention to redefine deserving charitable causes.
This is reflected in current moves in New Zealand to reclassify donations to schools as means of financial assistance in support of running expenses that cannot be met from official sources. Arguments in favour of declassifying such contributions are based on the nature of such giving in the form of a voluntary levy without a discretionary element. It also applies to the specific application of this income source that does not extend beyond the school community. There are remedies available to ensure compliance, but may not suit the purposes of school trustees and contributing parents and guardians.
Still in a state of gestation are considerations forthcoming from a meeting of charity regulators at a Commonwealth conference to reconsider religion as a qualifying tenet in light of decreasing church affiliations and the diminishing role of faith based institutions in delivering social services. There is good reason to assert that their function as principal providers of education, health and social services well into the 19th century has to a major extend been replaced by universal public funded institutions supplemented by contracted professional and non-profit providers. Faith and principle based institutions in these categories have become more exclusive in their client base, relying in addition to Government contracts on fees for service as income sources. The same applies to non-religious educational establishments that subscribe to unorthodox philosophical and ethical principles. This puts them at odds with charitable dictates that prescribe public benefit as the overarching requirement for donee status with tax benefits to both the donor and the recipient delivery agent.
Arguments in favour of providing services that relieve the over-burdened public system, have not found expression in the tax treatment of health insurance contributions to a friendly society dominant in its market and the extension of this political resistance will now extend to the education sector. This can be justified on the grounds of consistency in the application of one set of rules that fits all situations. Public benefit prescribes that the service is relevant or essential and available to all without distinction. Funds raised under these conditions have to be applied without bias to deserving beneficiaries in respect of need arising from disadvantage and/or disability.
There is good reason to believe that there are many charities on the register, which no longer qualify for charitable status either by virtue of a liberal interpretation of the rules at inception or in having deviated from their stated aims and objects with an extension into income producing activities that are no longer charitable. It is pertinent to note that Inland Revenue is the final arbiter in the process of approval and being incorporated as a charitable trust provides no guarantee of registration or done status.
When this will happen and how it will affect Churches is uncertain. In my opinion it is highly unlikely that it will deter committed parishioners from contributing financially.