Understanding charitable status and trust deeds

Schools, hospitals, churches and other institutions could and still can be granted charitable status if their purpose is deemed to be for the public benefit. Their role could be educational, religious, to alleviate poverty or some other endeavour for the general good of society.

A trust is a legal arrangement in which an asset of some kind is put in the possession of a trustee (or trustees) to be held for the benefit of another. For example, the Wellcome Trust, established in 1936, was set up to manage endowments left by Sir Henry Wellcome for the benefit of human and animal health through biomedical research. A trust deed is the legal document that records the conditions of the trust, therefore generally recording the transference of land, property or other assets from one person to another (a conveyance).

Today trust deeds (sometimes referred to as declarations of trust) are not registered with the courts but from 1736 until 1925 most deeds relating to transfers of land for charitable purposes had to be registered, or ‘enrolled’, at the Court of Chancery, and latterly with the Supreme Court. From 1856 they could also, voluntarily, be enrolled with the Charity Commission.

 Legislative background to the records

Following the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act 1736, conveyances of lands, goods and money in trust for charitable purposes had to be formally drawn up and properly witnessed. They then had to be enrolled within six months, often with a plan of the property, with the Court of Chancery.

The Charitable Trusts Amendment Act 1855 established that any deed, will or other document relating to charities could also be voluntarily enrolled in the books of the Charity Commissioners.

Following the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act 1888, elementary school masters’ houses (up to one acre), public parks (up to 20 acres) and public museums (up to two acres) could also be enrolled in the Charity Commissioners books instead of Chancery. Also gifts of land under the Working Class Dwellings Act 1890 and the Technical and Industrial Institutions Act 1892 could be similarly enrolled.

From 1926, under the Settled Lands Act of 1925 (15 & 16 Geo V c 18), it was a requirement to enrol all land vested for charitable purposes with the Charity Commission.

The Education Act of 1944 (7 & 8 Geo VI c 31) stipulated that all trust deeds for educational purposes were required to be recorded with the Minister of Education. This provision was repealed in 1960.

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