The Law and Understanding Trust Deeds

The Top Tips

Make sure everyone on the committee gets a copy of your constitution when they join. See Acre leaflet number 40 Trustee Model Info Pack

• Have one member of the committee to be your “expert”, someone who has spend serious time reading the constitution so that they can explain what it means in plain English to new members and to the committee as a whole when issues arise.

Make sure your constitution defines your actual area of benefit accurately. If it defines your geographical area of benefit as just the parish of X, when in practice you provide services to a bigger area, you ought to consider changing it to say “parish of X and surrounding areas”. This could be crucial if you are applying for money and need to demonstrate that you are working within your constitution.

• If you decide you need to change your constitution, seek advice before acting.  It may be that you can simply make a couple of small changes and carry on with the existing constitution.  Extending the area you serve or changing the composition of your management committee - for example - can usually be done at an AGM or Emergency General Meeting.  If the advice is that you need a new constitution, don’t do it yourselves or ask a lawyer to write one. There is no need to reinvent this wheel. Both Community First and the Charity Commission can provide you with models to use http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/

• The basic rules to follow when creating new constitutions are to keep it as simple as possible and to avoid any inclusions which may rapidly become out of date. Naming specific current user groups as being required to have committee representation is one example of this.

Remember that your chief defence against legal action is to be sure that you are behaving “reasonably” at all times. Being aware of your legal obligations and acting on them; having all your Health and Safety and Risk Assessment procedures up to date; ensuring your Hire Agreement places clear obligations on hirers to observe Risk Assessment procedures etc. With that caveat, you can explore the option of having Indemnity Insurance by reading Village Hall Information Sheet 35 Trustee liability and trustee indemnity Insurance.

• Always ensure that you exactly meet the requirements of your constitution when it comes to calling Annual or Extraordinary General meetings

• Don’t get bogged down in lengthy discussion about points of law amongst yourselves. Most people find the Law boring or frustrating or bewildering. If legal issues start taking up large chunks of meeting time, you will risk committee members dropping out. Once you have identified the issue appoint a couple of people as an ad hoc subcommittee, leave them to find out the answers and move on to other more exciting business.

Don’t try to be legal experts yourselves. Even if you have practising or retired lawyers on your committee, don’t be tempted to save legal advice fees by deciding on your own “common sense” interpretation of points of law that arise. It’s potentially dangerous.

Where can you go for help?

• Try going to www.lawworks.org.uk  This is a web based service where you may be able to get free advice from lawyers working on a pro bono basis.

• The Charity Commission http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/ 0845 3000 218

• Community First We don’t employ any qualified lawyers but we may be able to get  you a free legal opinion from lawyers who help us with advice on a “pro bono” basis. They won’t be able to comment on complex issues or do ongoing free work for you.

• .The National Council for Voluntary Organisations have a variety of publications on offer; some free to download; some at a price.
http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/governanceandleadership