13/10/2021

What are health promotion charities?

A health promotion charity (HPC) is a type of charity registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) “whose principal purpose is to promote the prevention or the control of diseases in human beings”. A HPC is also eligible for endorsement by the Australian Taxation Office as a deductible gift recipient (DGR).

Registered charities, regardless of their subtype, must satisfy certain requirements associated with the definition of charity. The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (Charities Act) codifies the definition of charity, which requires that an entity:

  • is a not-for-profit entity;
  • 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.

To be registered as an HPC, a charity must also:

  • be an institution;
  • that promotes the prevention or control of disease in humans; and
  • has the promotion of the prevention or control of disease in humans as its principal activity.

The definition of a HPC is a narrower requirement than the charity subtype of ‘advancing health’ under section 12 of the Charities Act. Whilst all HPCs must have a charitable purpose, it may not necessarily be the purpose of advancing health, and not all health-related charities will be HPCs. For example, charities registered under the purpose of advancing education may undertake the promotion of control of disease through education as their principle activity, such as organisations which promote safe sex in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Other examples of HPCs include community health care providers, medical research organisations and organisations that seek to prevent human diseases by raising public awareness of such diseases.

What is recognised as a ‘disease’?

For the purposes of registration as an HPC, ‘disease’ is defined broadly and includes both physical and mental illnesses. An HPC’s activities must be directed towards an identified disease (which affects humans), rather than a general health condition or symptom. However, where a condition or symptom, if left untreated, will degenerate into an identified disease, the ACNC may recognise focus on such a condition or symptom as sufficiently preventing or controlling a disease, for example, the use of tobacco and the link to cancer.

Whilst the ACNC notes, where possible, an organisation should identify the disease(s) for which it is promoting prevention or control, it acknowledges that the definition of HPC does not restrict the number of diseases or groups of diseases that are relevant in such promotion. That is, it is possible to promote the prevention or control of a range of diseases rather than an organisation being required to focus on a single disease or group of diseases.

While disease can include physical illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis, it can also include mental illnesses. Mental illnesses have been recognised by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as clinically diagnosable disorders that significantly interfere with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities, and can include anxiety disorders, affective disorders, psychotic disorders and substance use disorders.

The ACNC will consider any developments in medical and health research into existing, new or emerging definitions of diseases.

What does promotion involve?

As mentioned, HPC activities have a potentially narrower remit than charities that have the purpose of advancing health. This is because HPCs are required to promote the prevention or control of disease(s), not just general health.

In order to ‘promote’ the prevention or control of disease(s), an HPC does not need to directly engage in activities that prevent or control, nor does the organisation need to demonstrate success in the measures they have taken in order to promote the prevention or control of the relevant diseases or diseases. Instead, promotion of prevent or control may include:

  • the taking of action to reduce the spread of disease(s);
  • public awareness-raising activities;
  • medical research into management, prevention, causes and/or treatment of diseases;
  • managing and treating diseases and activities to alleviate suffering or distress caused by diseases;
  • developing or providing aids or equipment to help people suffering from a disease; and
  • education of carers of people with a disease.

Fundraising activities for prevention or control activities, such as the ones listed above, are likely to be considered as promotion activities, for example fundraising organisations that raise money for cancer research. However, it will be a question of degree and purpose of the fundraising. (It is also worth noting that any charitable fundraising activity undertaken by an organisation will also likely required compliance with the relevant State or Territory charitable fundraising regime(s).)

Activities that are unlikely to be considered as the promotion of prevention or control of a disease include:

  • promoting healthy lifestyles in a general sense, for example healthy eating and regular exercise;
  • promoting a particular type of exercise for general health benefits, and
  • wellbeing programs or activities.

While the activities of preventing or controlling disease must be the main focus of an HPC, these do not need to be the only activities of the charity. Overall, the link between what the charity does and the prevention or control of diseases must be clear.

What tax concessions are health promotion charities entitled to?

Charities that are registered as an HPC, are eligible to access the following Commonwealth tax concessions:

  • income tax exemption;
  • goods and services tax (GST) concessions;
  • fringe benefit tax (FBT) exemption; and
  • deductible gift recipient (DGR) endorsement.

What if I want to know more?

For more information on HPCs you can read the ACNC’s Health Promotion Charity Factsheet or the ACNC Commissioner’s Interpretation Statement which provides guidance on the meaning and scope of HPCs.

How can we help?

If you believe your organisation is eligible for registration as an HPC, or if you would like help setting up an HPC, please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector lawyers.

Expertise Area
""