Consider establishing as an unincorporated association

An unincorporated association is a group of people who have formed for a particular purpose. Social clubs and voluntary associations are typical examples of unincorporated associations.

Unincorporated Association

With an unincorporated association, you only need to apply to the Charity Commission to register for charitable status.

Download guidance about setting up a Unincorporated Association

What next? Get in touch with TrustLaw if you need advice.

Case Study: Unincorporated association

Mapesbury Dell Trust (the “Trust”) is an unincorporated association which runs a community-led public park called Mapesbury Dell, located in North West London near Cricklewood Broadway. The Trust is governed by a formal constitution and run by trustees who are elected by its members each year. There are approximately 400 members of the Trust.

The land of Mapesbury Dell is legally owned by Brent Council (“Brent”). As landowner, Brent retains responsibility for all health and safety issues and must also fulfil its statutory duties as a local authority in relation to Mapesbury Dell as a public park. However, there is a formal 'partnership' agreement between Brent and the Trust under which Brent is required to ensure that Mapesbury Dell remains an open space available to the public at large and the Trust and Brent each assume responsibility for specific tasks for the maintenance of Mapesbury Dell. The members of an unincorporated association are personally liable for the debts and other obligations of the association; however the Trust has obtained various protections from liability under its agreement with Brent.

Mapesbury Dell is governed by a Steering Committee of six people.  Half of the Steering Committee is chosen by the trustees and the other half is chosen by Brent. The Steering Committee has the final say on what happens in Mapesbury Dell with the exception of the implementation of health and safety regulations, the fulfilment of Brent’s statutory duties as a local authority and any expenditure by Brent. In the event of a deadlock between the members of the Steering Committee from Brent and the Trust, the Trust members have the casting vote.  

The constitution of the Trust sets out the charitable purpose of the Trust, which is:

The enhancement, maintenance and improvement of open space, within the Mapesbury Conservation Area known as Mapesbury Dell and Children’s Park for its use: ‐
(a)    as a recreational facility for the public at large;
(b)    for the advancement of education of children; and
(c)    for the conservation of rare and endangered species of wildlife.

As the trust has charitable purposes, it has registered to be able to claim Gift Aid.

The Trust intends to remain an unincorporated association. As an entirely voluntary organisation, with no paid staff, this structure meets its needs, and reflects its community and member-led nature.  

Next steps

Now that you have an overview of what structures may be most suitable for your social venture, you should seek legal advice to ensure the structure meets all your organisation’s needs.

TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation global pro bono legal programme, connects social enterprises with leading law firms to provide free legal assistance on issues such as a structuring. In the UK alone, TrustLaw supports over 250 social enterprises with free legal assistance.

Apply to join TrustLaw to request free legal advice for your social venture.