British Charitable trust system

History of British charitable trusts

Charitable trusts originated in the medieval Britain. Devout Christians and Catholics donated personal properties to the Church with the purpose to relieve poverty. With the increasing amount of funding, the Church Utilised abbeys and monastery tight-knit organizations to hold activities from purely religious events expanding to educational, medical and agricultural production secular charitable activities. This is the historical background how charitable trusts are born. by the 16th century, Henry VIII recovered the prohibition of legal land ownership, prohibiting to setting more than 20-year trusts in the name of religion. It thus resulted in the decline of charitable trusts within the main form from the Church. Due to the country’s underdeveloped social policies, civil charitable trusts turned to be used. Thereafter came the rise of public welfare with the aim to save the poor. The development of the British charitable trust system is closely related to the spirit of Christian ethics. It is fundamentally a spontaneous folk behaviour of mutual help, and also gave the birth to the profound cultural foundation of the National Trust after hundred years.

By the 19th century, the charitable trusts are abusedly employed as a tax evasion tool. In order to prevent its vicious development, the focus of developing trust system was laid in establishing the charitable trust supervising mechanism. Based on “The Charitable Trusts Act” in 1853, British government set up Charity Commission to supervise, inspect and counsel for charitable trusts. Before its abolishment in 1939, The Charitable Trusts Act was being applied as the legal basis for British charitable activities. After World War II, the Committee On The Law And Practice Relating To Charitable Trusts was founded. The Charities Act established in 1960, after a few amendments, provides detailed provisions of the subject of charitable activities (including charitable corporations and charitable trusts), the right strengthening of competent authority, the establishment of registration system and management mechanism of free property.


公益信託最早發源於英國中世紀,虔誠的基督 教與天主教徒將個人財產捐贈給教會救濟貧困 之用。隨著數量逐漸增加,教會也利用僧院、修 道院綿密的組織,從單純的信仰活動擴展至教 育、醫療、農業生產等世俗公益活動,此為公益 信託發軔之背景。到了16世紀,亨利八世恢復禁 止法人享有土地所有權的規定,並禁止以宗教 為名設定超過20年的信託,造成以教會為主體 的公益型態式微,而當時國家的社會政策又不 發達,民間公益信託轉而被利用,促成以救貧為 目的的公益事業興起。英國公益信託制度的發 展與基督教倫理精神息息相關,基本上是一種 民間自發性的互助行為,也孕育了百年後國民 信託的深厚文化基礎。

到了19世紀,公益信託有被私人濫用作為逃 稅工具的趨勢,為了防止可能的弊病,當時信 託制度發展的重點便在建立公益信託的監督 機制。依據1853年制定的《公益信託法》(The Charitable Trusts Act),英國政府設立「公 益委員會」 (Charity Commission)作為公益 信託的監督、檢查與輔導機關,至1939年廢止 前,《公益信託法》一直為英國公益活動主要 的法律依據。二次大戰後,「公益信託法與營 運委員會」(Committee On The Law And Practice Relating To Charitable Trusts) 成立,1960年通過《公益法》(The Charities Act),之後歷經多次修正,對於公益活動的主 體(包含公益法人與公益信託)、主管機關權限 的強化、確立登記制度與免稅財產管理機制等 都有了詳盡規定。

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