Who can be a Charity Trustee?


Trustees play an important role in the day-to-day running of a charity.  Therefore as a charity, choosing your trustee is essential.

Firstly, the following points need to be clarified:

What are trustees’ duties?

The Charity Commission outlines the trustee’s core duties as follows:

  1. Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the ‘public benefit’
  2. Comply with your charity’s governing document and the law
  3. Act in your charity’s best interests
  4. Manage your charity’s resources responsibly
  5. Act with reasonable care and skill
  6. Ensure your charity is accountable

Who can become a trustee? And, how are they appointed?

  • The minimum age to become a trustee of a charitable company or a CIO is 16. You must not act as a trustee if you have been disqualified under the Charities Act, further details of which can be found here.
  • All trustees must fit the legal criteria to be ‘fit and proper persons.’
  • Trustees are required to undergo a ‘Disclosing and Disbarring (‘DBS’) check. The nature of the DBS check will depend on the charities objectives.
  • The process of appointing trustees should be laid out in a charities governing document, the legal provisions for appointing trustees, outlines how to find new trustees.

The reasons that some individuals cannot acts as trustees can be delineated into several categories:

Disqualification by law: disqualification means that an individual cannot take on or stay in a charity trustee position.

  • Financial: unspent convictions for offences involving dishonesty or deception, specified terrorism, specified money laundering, specified bribery, contravening a Charity Commission Order or Direction, misconduct in public office, perjury, or perverting the course of justice, aiding attempting or abetting the above offences and insolvency.
  • Non-financial: being on the sex offenders register; unspent sanction for contempt of Court; disobeying a Commission Order; being a designated persons (under specific anti terrorism legislation); being a person who has been removed from a relevant office; director disqualification.
  1. Disqualification by the charities governing document:
  • A charities governing document may include details of who can/cannot become a trustee.
  1. Disqualification by the Charity Commission:
  • A disqualification order, issued by the Charity Commission, may disqualify an individual from all charities, specified charities, or a class of charities. The period of disqualification will depend on the seriousness of the case. Disqualification may last up to 15 years.
  • Disqualification also prevents that individual from holding positions with senior management functions within the charity/charities concerned. Exemptions may be issued. In such an event, the terms of these exemptions will be declared in the disqualification order.

There are three ways that you can check whether an individual is able to become a trustee.

  1. Check relevant registers. The Individual Insolvency Register maintained by the Insolvency Service, contains details of current and recent bankruptcies and individual voluntary arrangements. Furthermore, the register of all persons who have been removed as a charity trustee, maintained by the Charity Commission, allows you to check whether specific individuals have been removed.
  2. Secondly, ask prospective trustees to sign a declaration to confirm that they are not disqualified from acting as a charity trustee.
  3. Thirdly, where relevant, get a DBS check for a trustee role.