Common Law Meaning of Charity

We aim to deliver Just, Redemptive Outcomes®

In this article, our Australian Charity lawyers discuss the meaning of ‘Charity’ in Australia.

The common law meaning of ‘Charity’ has consistently been affirmed by our courts as deriving from the Statute of Elizabeth [i] and the decision of the Privy Council in Commissioners for Special Purposes of the Income Tax v Pemsel. [ii] The majority of the High Court affirmed this in 2008 in Commissioner of Taxation of the Commonwealth of Australia v Word Investments Ltd.[iii]

Pemsel’s case and Word Investments are authority for the summary proposition that –

A public not for profit body will be charitable in Australia if its main purpose and activities are for:

  • the relief of poverty;
  • the advancement of education;
  • the advancement of religion; or
  • other purposes beneficial to the community.

If you have questions on the meaning of charity, please contact our Australian Charity Lawyers

Call our Business Development Officers and make an appointment with one of our Australian Charity lawyers. Call (07) 3252 0011.


[i] 43 Eliz I c 4 (Charitable Uses Act 1601).

[ii] [1891] UKHL 1; [1891] AC 531 at 581-582.

[iii] [2008] HCA 55 at para. 78.