Fundamentally, for an organisation to be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) all of its purposes must be charitable and for the public benefit.

It can be helpful to think about a charity’s purpose as the organisation’s ‘why’, i.e., the reason for its existence. The definition of charitable purpose is set out under the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (Charities Act) which lists 12 charitable purposes.  One such purpose is the 'Preventing or relieving the suffering of animals'.

What is the purpose of ‘Preventing or relieving the suffering of animals’?

To be registered as a charity under this subtype, an applicant must be able to demonstrate how their organisation’s activities further the ‘Preventing or relieving the suffering of animals’.

The Charities Act does not define ‘animals’ nor what constitutes ‘Preventing or relieving the suffering’. These words therefore take on their ordinary meaning.

The Oxford Dictionary defines these words as:

  • animal - any such living organism other than a human being; 
  • preventing - the action of precluding of stopping an anticipated act or event;
  • relieving - to ease from sorrow, fear, doubt, or some other source of mental discomfort; and
  • suffering - the bearing or undergoing of pain, distress, or tribulation.

The ACNC will determine an organisation’s purpose by considering a range of sources, including its constitution, activities, website, any business or strategic plans and even social media platforms.

Some examples, provided by the ACNC, of charities which prevent or relieve animal suffering include:

  • animal hospitals;
  • animal protection societies;
  • animal refuges, sanctuaries and shelters;
  • organisations that protect endangered species; and
  • scientific bodies studying animal behaviour.

According to the Australian Charities Report 8th Edition (Charities Report) (compiled from data from the 2020 Annual Information Statements submitted to the ACNC), charities solely registered under this subtype (with no other subtypes) make up just over 1% of charities.

What kinds of activities does a charity pursuing this subtype of charity undertake?

A charity’s activities must support and be conducted in furtherance of its charitable purpose(s). It can be useful to think of activities in terms of the organisation’s ‘what’, i.e. what will the organisation do to help advance or fulfil its purpose?

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Charities Act (Explanatory Memorandum) provides some examples of activities which may be considered to be in pursuit of preventing or relieving the suffering of animals. These include (but are not limited to):

  • caring for, and re-homing, animals which are abandoned, mistreated or lost;
  • promoting benevolence and preventing or suppressing cruelty to animals;
  • providing animal sanctuaries; and
  • providing veterinary care and treatment.

Examples of activities, provided by the ACNC, which prevent or relieve the suffering of animals are:

  • providing temporary foster carers for domestic animals whose owners can no longer care for them;
  • operating a sanctuary for unwanted farm animals at risk of euthanasia;
  • providing a mobile de-sexing clinic to prevent litters of babies for pet owners who cannot afford to pay for de-sexing and cannot look after them; and
  • educating children about the importance of treating animals with kindness and respect for their needs.

Charities which are involved with rescuing or caring for native animals (e.g., rehabilitation programs for orphaned or injured native animals) may also be eligible for registration under the subtype of ‘advancing the natural environment’. For more information read our article, ‘Charitable Purpose Series – What is ‘Advancing the Natural Environment’?

What are the other requirements for registration as a charity?

Regardless of their subtype(s), registered charities must satisfy certain requirements in order to obtain and maintain their registration with the ACNC, namely the entity:

  • is not-for-profit;
  • has all of its purposes as charitable purposes for the public benefit (or any non-charitable purposes are incidental or ancillary to, and in aid of its charitable purpose(s));
  • does not have a disqualifying purpose; and
  • is not an individual, political party or a government entity.

Disqualifying purposes include engaging in or promoting activities which are unlawful or against public policy, or promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office.

How can we help?

If you believe your organisation is eligible for charity registration under the subtype of preventing or relieving the suffering of animals, if you would like to amend your charity subtype or otherwise review your current compliance, please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector Lawyers.