OG 48 Students' unions

Last reviewed:
Last updated:
2 May 2018

Policy Statement/Overview

GUIDANCE UNDER REVIEW: Please note that this guidance is currently under review. When this review is conducted, changes may be made to this guidance.                                     


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Summary of the guidance

The purpose of the OG 48 series is to explain:

  • the significance of the Education Act 1994 for students' unions (see OG 48 B1 and B2)
  • how to determine the charitable status of students unions and, in particular, which unions will be exempt from registration (see OG 48 B2)
  • what activities a students union may and may not take part in (see OG 48 B3)

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Casework Guidance

Please read the IMPORTANT NOTE on the front page

OG 48 A1

OG 48 A1 Overview - 5 July 2001

lawyer_refer1. The law

Part II of the Education Act 1994 (the 1994 Act) sets out the duties of the governing bodies of certain universities and colleges towards their students' unions. It requires them to: 

  • take steps to ensure that students' unions are properly administered; and
  • bring certain matters to the attention of the students.

(See OG 48 C2 for a summary of these.)

S.20 provides a definition of a students' union for the purposes of the Act.  Broadly, it is:

a body representing or promoting the general interests of students at a university or college specified in the Act whose principal purposes must include:

promoting the general interests of its members as students; or

representing them in matters relating to the government of the university or college.

(See OG 48 B1 for more detail.)

It is emphasized that this defines a students' union for the purposes of the 1994 Act.  An organisation which does not conform to the 1994 Act definition may still be a students' union for other purposes and may or may not be charitable – see section 2 below.

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2. Charitable status

A students' union set up and regulated according to ss.20 and 22 of the 1994 Act will usually be required to register as a charity as detailed in OG 48 B2.

A students' union set up and regulated in some other way may be charitable but a number of factors will need to be taken into account in determining its status - in particular:

the objects of the union itself;

the status (and, if it is not a charity, the objects) of its associated college; and

the level of control exercised by the college.

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3. Loss of exempt status

Student Unions lost their status as exempt charities on 1 June 2010 and must register with us if they are established for wholly charitable purposes and meet the income threshold for charity registration. 

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OG 48 B1

OG 48 B1 What is a students' union for the purposes of the 1994 Act? - 15 March 2000 

1.  lawyer_referGeneral definition


S.20 of the 1994 Act defines students' unions for the purposes of Part II of the Act  as:

  • an association of students, whose principal purposes include promoting the general interests of its members as students; or
  • a representative body whose principal purposes include representing students in academic, disciplinary or other matters.

(This covers Students' Representative Councils.)


"Students" in this context includes:

  • undergraduate students, or graduate  students, at the university or college; or
  • students at a particular hall of residence.

This definition (and Part II of the 1994 Act) applies only to students' unions associated with universities or colleges which are specified in the Act – see OG 48 C1.


2.  lawyer_referConstituent or affiliated associations

A body made up of, or representing, constituent or affiliated organisations which are themselves students' unions may be treated as a students' union (s.20(3)).

(This covers university unions made up of college unions, for example, as at Oxford and Cambridge.)


3.  lawyer_referNational or regional unions

A particular union may represent more than one university or college, but not all universities or colleges in the UK or any part of the UK (s.20(4)).

This means that the National Union of Students is not a students' union within the meaning of the Act.


4.  lawyer_referFull-time students only

A union may restrict its membership to full-time students (s.20(5)).



5.  lawyer_referMinority membership

Provided membership is open to one of the groups of students permitted by the Act, a union need not have recruited a majority of that group.  (For instance, a union representing full-time students at a particular hall of residence need not have recruited a majority of such students provided all students of that description are able to join if they so wish.)  s.20(5).


6.  Union unsure of its position

You should advise any organisation which has doubts about whether or not it comes within the 1994 Act definition to seek advice from the governing body of its university or college or, if necessary, from its own independent legal adviser.


The following words and phrases are defined in the Glossary of Terms:

1994 Act

specified institution

university or college

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OG 48 B2

OG 48 B2 Charitable status, registration and accounting - 5 July 2011

1. “1994 Act” unions

A students' union which is set up and regulated in accordance with ss.20 and 22 of the Education Act 1994 may be accepted as charitable unless:

  • we, the court or the Attorney General have determined that it is not; or
  • we are made aware of some provision in its governing document which casts doubt on its charitable status.

This will be very unusual.

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2. Non “1994 Act” unions

A students' union which does not fall within the 1994 Act definition, such as a students' union at a privately funded university or college, may still be charitable.  You will need to look at the status (and, if necessary, the objects) of its associated university or college, the union’s objects and activities, and the relationship between the two organisations (see section 4.1).

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3. Union unsure of its position under 1994 Act

If the trustees of an organisation are unsure whether or not they come within the definition of a students' union set out at in the 1994 Act, you should advise them to seek independent legal advice. The cost can be properly charged to union funds.

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4. Does the union need to register with us as a charity?


4.1 Registration requirement


All students’ unions established for exclusively charitable purposes must register with us as separate charities if they meet the income threshold for charity registration. This requirement to register applies irrespective of whether or not we are the principal regulator of the educational institution which administers it. (For information about principal regulators, refer to Changes to the Regulation of Excepted and Exempt Charities) Therefore a students’ union must register as a charity with us if it is administered by:

  • a publicly funded charitable university or college in England which is regulated by The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE); or
  • a university or higher education institution in Wales of which we are the principal regulator. 


All charitable students’ unions lost their exemption from the requirement to register with us with effect from June 2010 as a result of The Charities Act 2006 (Changes in Exempt Charities) Order 2010. 

To be charitable, the union must be established for exclusively charitable purposes and its activities must be consistent with those purposes.  In looking at the activities, you need to bear in mind the principles set out in OG 48 B3. Where the union's associated educational institution is not a charity, you will need to check that the education the institution provides falls within the "advancement of education" as it is used in charity law when considering the union’s charitable status. In such cases you should take particular care to ensure that the union is established for wholly charitable purposes, rather than it being tied to its associated institution’s non-charitable work.


4.2 Sabbatical trustees: paid employment


Some of a students’ union’s trustees are also sabbatical officers (therefore known as ‘sabbatical trustees’) who work as students’ representatives. They are employed by the students’ union for their work as sabbatical officers and are entitled to remuneration for this work under the Education Act 1994. (Note that they are not paid for carrying out their trustee duties.) Before registering the union as a charity we should check that these paid sabbatical trustees do not form a majority of the trustee body, to be satisfied that the students’ union can manage the associated conflicts of interests. If sabbatical trustees form a majority of the union’s trustee body we should ask the union to change the composition of its trustee body and refer them to our publication CC11 - Trustee Expenses and Payments. If they are unable or unwilling to do this, we will need to make a decision as to whether notwithstanding this fact they are still established for charitable purposes for the public benefit.

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5. Accounting by charitable students’ unions

Students’ unions are usually separately registered charities and must comply with the Regulations and the Charities SORP in the same way as any other charity.

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OG 48 B3

OG 48 B3  The activities of charitable students' unions - 15 March 2000


1. Trustees' duties and responsibilities 

The trustees of a charitable students' union have exactly the same duties and responsibilities as the trustees of any other charity.  In particular they should: 

  • act reasonably and prudently and in the interests of the union and its members; 
  • ensure that the assets of the union are applied only in furtherance of its stated objects; and
  • not engage in improper political, pressure group, or campaigning activities (see section 2).

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2.  Political activities and campaigning


2.1  General principles

Our publication, CC9, explains the degrees to which we consider charities may engage in political activity.  Charitable students' unions are in the same position in this respect as any other charity.  That is, the purpose of any political activity on which:

  • charitable funds are spent;
  • charitable property is used; or
  • the time of a sabbatical officer is spent,

should be to further and serve the union's stated objects.

Political activity:

  • should not be allowed to dominate the activities of the union;
  • should not be undertaken as an end in itself;
  • should be undertaken only with due regard to the overall financial position of the union and its other commitments.

There is nothing to prevent students joining together outside of the union to collect their own funds for a particular purpose.


2.2  Commenting on public issues

A charitable students' union may comment publicly on social, economic, environmental and political issues if these relate to its purposes or the way in which it is able to carry out its work.  For example:

  • street lighting near the campus;
  • more public transport at night; or
  • nursery places for the children of students.

It should not comment publicly on issues which do not affect the welfare of students as students.  For example:

  • planning proposals for new roads or motorways which have no direct affect on the university campus or the students;
  • campaigns to outlaw the killing of whales; or
  • the treatment of political prisoners in a foreign country.


2.3  Acting with other bodies

A charitable students' union may:

  • affiliate to the National Union of Students (or a similar body) to make sure that its members are represented at national level;
  • affiliate to a campaigning alliance, even if the alliance includes non-charitable organisations. But it should do this only if it would further the union's own educational purposes.

It should not:

  • take part in activities through an alliance which it would be wrong for it to undertake directly;
  • use a payment to a club or society as a way of transferring funds to a third party beyond the club or society.


2.4  Supporting political parties

A charitable students' union may not support a particular political party but it may:

  • encourage students to develop their political awareness and acquire knowledge of, or debate,  political issues.  To achieve this, it may make grants to political clubs or societies on the campus.  But these should be even-handed and non-discriminatory and for the purposes of the clubs or societies.


3.  Recreational activities

It is accepted that the provision of facilities for their recreation and leisure furthers both the interests of students and the educational purposes of their university or college.

A students' union may operate a bar and provide catering facilities, organise concerts, etc, but the trustees need to be aware of the possible tax consequences.  If the facilities are open only to students and the profits are used for the purposes of the union, there will be no tax liability.  However, if the facilities are open to members of the public on a more than occasional basis, there may be liability for income or corporation tax.

To avoid tax liability, the union should consider setting up a separate, non-charitable trading company.  Its profits may then be passed to the union either by way of deed of covenant, the Gift Aid Scheme or dividends.  CC35 Trustees, trading and tax sets out the questions which need to be addressed before taking this course of action and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

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OG 48 B4

OG 48 B4  Guidance for students' unions - 14 March 2012


1.  Guidance 


1.1    From Department for Education and Skills (DES) 


The DES publish a booklet  "Students' Unions: a Guide" which has been approved by both us and the Attorney General  - see OG 48 C3; students and students' unions who would like a copy of the booklet should contact the DES.   This supersedes the guidance issued by the Attorney General in 1983 (reproduced in our 1983 Annual Report). 

Governing bodies of specified institutions may issue the DES publication to students' unions and/or students as part of their duty to inform (see OG 48 C2 ).  Initially, the DES will be responsible for advising them whether this is likely to be sufficient to satisfy their duty completely.  Ultimately, however, this is a matter for the courts to decide. 


1.2    From us


The DES publication referred to above advises trustees to contact their university or college authorities in the first instance if they have any doubts as to whether any proposed expenditure is within the objects of the union.  They are advised to consult their legal advisers or us if this does not resolve the problem.

They are also advised that we are willing to give advice on any specific problem in connection with anything discussed in the publication and to consider the draft of any publications on which officers have doubts.  These might include advertisements, appeals or newsletters.  They are told to send a copy of their governing document with any request for advice (unless they know that we already have one).

Any students' union which is a charity, whether registered or not, is entitled to ask us for advice on any matter affecting it.  We may give this informally under our general duty to give trustees information and advice, or formally under s.110 of the 2011 Act.

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2.  Areas of potential difficulty


2.1    Social and political activity


The social and political activities of unions are areas of particular potential difficulty.  Guidance on both of these issues is included in the DES publication (paragraphs 11-18) and this is expanded in OG 48 B3.  CC9 contains more general guidance on political activities and campaigning.  Students' unions are in exactly the same position as any other charity in this respect.


consultlawyer_referIf, having looked at this guidance, you are still unsure what advice to give, you should refer the papers to a senior officer.  If necessary, Legal Services should be consulted.


2.2    Position under 1994 Act

See OG 48 B2 

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OG 48 B5

OG 48 B5 Complaints about students' unions - 14 March 2012


1. First recourse


Students’ unions are subject to our powers of monitoring and investigation.  


However, a students’ union may nevertheless be subject to the statutory supervision of the governing body of the university or college which administers it.


(For example, some institutions designated to receive support from a Higher Education Funding Council under s.129 of the Education Reform Act 1988 may not be exempt charities but they are all covered by s.21 of the Education Act 1994.)  Others will be subject to similar but non-statutory supervision.


Because of this, you should advise anyone who wishes to complain about a union to first contact the governing body of the university or college involved.

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2. Approach to associated college fails to resolve matter


A students' union which is registered (or registrable) as a charity is subject to the same statutory provisions as any other registered charity - including our powers of investigation and the power to take action to protect the property of the charity.  You should establish at the outset, however, that the governing body of the university or college has concluded its consideration of the complaint.  You should also establish, if possible, what ground has already been covered and how we can usefully add to conclusions already reached.  We should avoid situations where we are effectively being asked to review a decision of the governing body concerned.


lawyer_referAny complainant who wished to take legal action against such a union would need our authority under s.115 of the 2011 Act.   These cases should be referred to Legal Services.  They will deal with the application for authorisation of legal proceedings or refer back to Operations or, exceptionally, to Investigation and Enforcement, to take some other action.

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OG 48 C1

OG 48 C1  Specified Institutions (Establishments to which Part II of the Education Act 1994 applies) - 15 March 2000

NB:  The information in this guidance may change in the light of changes to education legislation


1.  lawyer_referThe law

 The institutions to which Part II of the 1994 Act applies are, broadly, universities and colleges of further and higher education which are (at least in part) publicly funded.


 Those in England and Wales are:

 (a) Any university receiving financial support under s.65 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. 

  (That is, those who receive funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England or the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.  The University of Buckingham does not receive HEFC funding.)

 (b) Any institution conducted by a higher education corporation or further education corporation. 

  (Higher education corporations are bodies established to run LEA institutions whose main purpose is the provision of sufficient advanced further education courses to satisfy s.121(2) of the Education Reform Act 1988.) 

  (Further education corporations are bodies established to run institutions (including sixth form colleges) which provide sufficient full-time further and higher education to satisfy s.15(2) or (3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.)

 (c) Any institution designated under s.129 of the Education Reform Act 1988 as eligible to receive support from funds administered by a Higher Education Funding Council.

  (These are higher education colleges providing similar education to those in (b) above but which were not incorporated under s.121.  They are mostly in the voluntary sector.)

 (d) Any institution designated under s.28 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 as eligible to receive support from funds administered by a Further Education Funding Council.

  (These are institutions providing further or higher education which were formerly voluntary aided sixth form colleges, and specialist institutions such as long term residential colleges for adults, formerly funded by grants.  They include Workers' Educational Association colleges.)

 (e) Any institution substantially dependent on financial support under s.6(5) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. 

  (These are institutions outside the further education sector which provide part-time or adult further education, and rely for more than 25% of their income on further education council funding via a sponsoring institution within the further education sector.  This sort of funding is available to institutions which provide facilities unavailable (or for which provision is inadequate) elsewhere in the locality).

 (f) Any institution designated, or of a description designated, by order of the Secretary of State.

 (g) Any college, school or hall in an establishment within any of the above paragraphs. 

  (This covers universities such as Oxford and Cambridge which are made up of separate colleges.  These will not necessarily include the word "college" in their title, for example, St Edmund Hall, Oxford.)

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 2.  Doubt as to whether institution is "specified"

 If it is not clear that an institution falls into one of the categories listed in section 1 above, you should ask its governing body to confirm the position.

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OG 48 C2

OG 48 C2  Duties of governing bodies of specified institutions towards their students' unions - a summary of the law - 15 March 2000

lawyer_refer The 1994 Act requires the governing bodies of specified institutions to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that their students' unions operate fairly and democratically and account for their finances (s.22(1)).

There are certain requirements which the governing body must particularly ensure its students' union observes.  Broadly, these are:

  •  the union should have a written constitution (s.22(2)(a));
  •  this should be approved by the governing body, and reviewed by them at least every five years (s.22(2)(b));
  •  every student should have the right not to be a member of the union or be represented by it, and should not be unfairly disadvantaged by opting out (s.22(2)(c));
  •  major union officers should be elected by a properly conducted secret universal ballot (s.22(2)(d) and (e)); 
  •  This provision does not apply to open or distance learning universities or colleges (s.22(9));
  •  no one should hold sabbatical or paid elected union office for more than a total of two years (s.22(2)(f));
  •  the union's financial affairs should be properly conducted and its budget and expenditure approved and monitored by the governing body (s.22(2)(g));
  •  the union's financial reports  (which should include details of donations to external organisations) should be published at least annually and made available to the governing body and all students (s.22(2)(h));
  •  the procedure for allocating resources to groups or clubs should be fair, set down in writing and freely accessible to all students (s.22(2)(i));
  •  the union should publish notice and details of any decision to affiliate to an external organisation (s.22(2)(j));
  •  details of current affiliations (including details of fees paid and donations made since the previous report) should be published at least annually (s.22(2)(k));
  •  there should be procedures for:
    •   current affiliations to be submitted to members for approval at least annually s.22(2)(l)(i)); and
    •   universal secret ballots to decide on continued affiliation to a particular organisation (s.22(2)(l)(ii)); 

           This provision does not apply to open or distance learning universities or colleges (s.22(9));

  •  an effective and fair complaints procedure should be available to all students.  This should provide for complaints to be investigated by and reported on by an independent person appointed by the governing body (s.22(2)(m)-(n)).


From 1 April 1995, governing bodies have been required to:

  •  produce codes of practice covering the requirements of s.22 (s.22(3)and (4)); and
  •  bring to the notice of the students at least once a year:
    •   the code of practice;
    •   any restrictions imposed on the activities of the union by the law relating to charities (s.22(4)); and
    •   the provisions of s.43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (freedom of speech in universities and colleges).  (See paragraph 28 of OG 48 C3.)

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OG 48 C3

OG 48 C3  Students' unions: a guide  (A DES PUBLICATION)

The purpose of this booklet


1. Everyone who is involved with students' unions, whether as a member or an officer, needs to be aware that most students' unions are charities and that they have to comply with the law's requirements for charities.  The Education Act 1994 requires governing bodies to draw to the attention of all their students at least once a year any restrictions which the law of charities places on students' unions.  This booklet gives general guidance which should be sufficient for this purpose.

2. In addition to general charity law, there are also statutory requirements which affect the activities of students' unions.  These are described in paragraphs 28-33. 

3. This booklet supersedes the Attorney-General's Guidance on expenditure by students' unions, which was issued in 1983.


What is a students’ union?

4. "Students' union" is defined in section 20 of the Education Act 1994.  It includes a body representing or promoting the general interests of students at a university or at a college or hall of a university.  It does not need to be called a "students' union".  For example, a Student Representative Council, which represents the generality of students in matters concerned with the government of the institution would be a students' union.  It does not include associations concerned with a single purpose, such as sport.  If you are in doubt, you should approach the governing body of the university or college, via the secretary or clerk or the student representative.


Is your students’ union a charity?

5. Most students' unions are charities.  This is because they exist to further the educational purposes of the universities or colleges to which they are attached.  You should assume that the students' union at your university or college is a charity unless you have been told otherwise by the governing body or by the Charity Commission.

6. If a students' union is a charity, its object (as set out in its constitution) normally cannot be changed so as to make them non-charitable, even by a unanimous vote of the union.


Union officers and others in the position of trustees

7. The officers of a students' union are in the position of charity trustees.  This also applies to anyone else who is responsible for the general control and management of the union; for example, the members of a management committee.  The rest of this booklet uses the word "officers" to describe those who in fact have control and management of the union, whatever they are called.


Responsibility of officers

8. The officers are responsible for ensuring that union funds are only used for purposes which are permitted by the union's constitution and promote the charitable objects of the union.  If funds are used improperly, the officers who allowed the expenditure may be personally liable to repay the money.  The misuse of funds can also lead to the loss of tax benefits which derive from the union's charitable status, and the officers may be liable to repay to the union any extra tax which has to be paid; see paragraph 23.


General guidance

9. As a broad general rule, expenditure of union funds is likely to be permitted only if it furthers the interests of the students in a way that assists in the educational aims of the university or college.  This includes, of course, providing facilities for recreation and leisure.  Some examples of what is and is not permissible are given in this booklet.

10. The fact that a students' union is a charity does not, of course, restrict students from participating in any particular range of activities.  It only prevents the use of the union's funds for purposes which are outside the objects of the charity.  There is no objection to students joining together to collect their own funds for any purpose for which union funds cannot be used.


Bar, catering facilities, concerts etc

11. A students' union may operate a bar, provide catering facilities, or organise concerts etc subject to licensing and other legal requirements.  Any profits will form part of the union funds and must be applied for the purposes of the union.  If the bar, catering facilities, concerts etc are open to members of the public as well as to students, the profits will normally be taxable.

12. If a students' union owns facilities (such as vehicles or audio equipment or premises) they can be lent or hired out to students as a means of assisting students in the university or college.  But the union must charge a proper commercial rate if the facilities are hired to non-students or for any other use outside the union's own purposes.


Clubs and societies

13. Union funds can be used to support a campus newspaper, a wide range of clubs and societies in the university or college.  These can include political clubs and societies so long as these are dealt with in an even-handed way.  Neither a students' union nor any of its clubs or societies can generally make donations to external organisations, particularly political parties, or causes; see paragraph 22.  However, clubs or societies may, like the students' union affiliate to a relevant external organisation in certain circumstances; see paragraph 20.


Campaigning and political activity

 14. The circumstances in which funds and facilities can be used for campaigning (either on local or national issues) are very limited.  The first requirement is that the issue must affect present and future members of the union as students.  Examples of local issues which might fulfil this requirement would be better street lighting near the campus, more public transport at night, or the provision of nursery places for the children of students.  An example of a national issue would be student loans or grants.

 15. By contrast, union funds cannot be used to promote or support campaigns on matters which may be of general interest or concern but which do not affect members of the union as students.  Examples would be industrial disputes, general campaigning on environmental matters, eg environmental policies and road building, or the treatment of political prisoners in a foreign country.  A students' union cannot, for instance, pay for coaches to transport students to demonstrations on such issues.

 16. Funds also cannot be used to participate in party political demonstrations, or to persuade members of the public to vote for or against a particular candidate or party in local or national elections.  By contrast, reasonable expenditure on debating matters of common concern is permissible.

 17. Even where an issue is one which affects students as such, the connection must be sufficiently close to justify any expenditure which the union incurs.  Officers need to consider carefully whether the amount being spent is reasonable (a) in relation to any benefit to students which may be expected, and (b) in relation to the financial resources of the union and its other commitments.

 18. If factual information is put forward as part of a campaign which the union can properly support, officers of the union must take care that it is accurate and is not distorted in any way.


Affiliation to NUS and other bodies

 19. A students' union can affiliate to the National Union of Students or other similar organisations concerned with further and higher education and related training, and can spend money on attendance by representatives at conferences, seminars and training events organised by such organisations.  This enables its members to be represented at national, regional and local levels, and helps to ensure that the union's affairs are properly conducted.

 20. A students' union can affiliate to a campaigning alliance, even if the alliance includes non-charitable organisations.  But the issues on which the alliance is campaigning must be of a kind which the union could campaign for directly itself; see paragraphs 14 to 18.  Otherwise a students' union, or any club or society (including a political club) can only affiliate to particular campaigns or external organisations for the purposes of obtaining educational material or information to assist in the discussion and expression of views.  Any affiliation fee must be reasonable, and the test of reasonableness will be similar to that mentioned in paragraph 17.

 21. The Education Act 1994 also contains provisions about the making of donations and affiliations to representative and other external organisations; see paragraphs 22 and 29.


Donations to other charities and organisations

 22. The fact that a students' union is a charity does not mean, of itself, that donations can be made to other charities.  Furthermore, neither a students' union nor any club or society can make donations to any external organisation or cause, particularly if it is political in nature - unless the organisation or cause has a connection with the welfare of students at the particular university or college.  None of this prevents a students' union fund raising where those funds are passed directly to the intended recipients.  So, for example, there is nothing to prevent a students' union holding a rag week to collect money for various named charities or other causes and passing the money collected from students or the general public directly to the organisation concerned.


Tax benefits

 23. Like other charities, students' unions enjoy fiscal benefits, including relief from income tax.  It is important that officers know about these benefits, so that tax relief is not lost.  Advice on this can be obtained from the Inland Revenue.


Further guidance

 24. If the officers of a students' union have any doubt whether any proposed expenditure is within the proper objects of the charity, they should not hesitate to consult their university or college authorities in the first instance and if necessary their legal advisers or the Charity Commission.  The costs of taking such advice can properly be paid out of union funds.

 25. The Charity Commission also publish two leaflets which you may find useful:

  CC3 Responsibilities of Charity Trustees 

  CC9 Political Activities and Campaigning by Charities 

 These can also be obtained by contacting First Contact on 0845 300 0218.

 26. The Charity Commission is always willing to give advice on any specific problem a students' union may have in connection with any matter discussed in this booklet and to consider the draft of any publications such as advertisements, appeals, newsletters etc on which officers have doubts.

 27. If the officers of any students' union want advice from the Commission on any matter affecting their charity they should write to the appropriate address shown above.  They should enclose with their letter a full copy of the governing document(s) of the charity (unless they know that the Commission already has a copy) and quote any reference number which may have been used in previous correspondence.


Other statutory provisions affecting students’ unions

Freedom of speech

 28. Section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 requires universities and colleges to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure freedom of speech within the law for students, employees and visiting speakers.  This involves seeing that the use of premises (including students' union premises) is not denied to anyone because of their beliefs or politics.  The governing body is required to maintain a code of practice in connection with this.

 29. Section 22 of the Education Act 1994 requires the governing bodies of a university or college ("the governing body") to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that a students' union operates in a fair and democratic manner and is accountable for its finances.  This includes seeing that the following happens:

  a) the union has a written constitution which is subject to the approval of the governing body and review by that body at intervals of not more than five years;

  b) a student has the right not to be a member of the union or be represented by it - a student who opts out in this way should not be unfairly disadvantaged in the provision of services or otherwise;

  c) the holders of major union offices are elected by secret ballot and that such elections are fairly and properly conducted;

  d) no-one holds paid elected union office or "sabbatical" office for more than two years;

  e) the financial affairs of the union are properly conducted and there are appropriate arrangements for the approval of the union's budget and the monitoring of expenditure, by the governing body;

  f) a financial report of the union is published at least every year and made available to the governing body and to all students - the report should include details of donations to external organisations;

  g) the procedure for allocating resources to groups or clubs is fair and available in writing to all students;

  h) notice is published to all students of any decision to affiliate to an external organisation and information is available as to the current list of organisations to which the union is affiliated, and of any subscription or donation paid (the Act also specifies a procedure for determining by secret ballot whether any affiliation should continue);and

  i) a complaints procedure is available to students where they are dissatisfied in their dealings with the union.

 30. The governing body is required to maintain a code of practice relating to the above.

 31. The governing body is also required to draw the attention of all students to the provisions of section 43 of the education (No. 2) Act 1986 (see paragraph 28), where this is applicable, and of any code of practice issued under the section relevant to the activities or conduct of the union.

 32. The governing body is required at least once a year to bring to the attention of all students (and would-be students) the right not to be a member of the union or be represented by it.  It is also required to give details of any arrangements it has made for the provision of services to non-union members which are normally provided by the union.

 33. Students should follow the complaints procedure established by their institution if they are dissatisfied in their dealings with the union or consider themselves unfairly disadvantaged by reason of having opted out of membership.

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OG 48 G1

OG 48 G1 Glossary of terms defined for this OG series only

1994 Act The 1994 Act means the Education Act 1994.
Officers Officers in relation to students' unions means the people who administer the union.  Where the union is a charity, this will be the charity trustees.
Specified institutions Specified institutions are the universities and colleges to which the 1994 Act applies.  (See OG 48 C1.)
University or college A university or college means an educational establishment in the further or higher education sector.  (This includes sixth form colleges but not the sixth forms of secondary schools).  It may be publicly or privately funded.

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