- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Alice Lighton
On Sunday Magdalen JCR became Oxford’s first to decide to register as an independent charity under a new law which will soon require other JCRs to follow suit.
The Charities Act 2006 made it compulsory for JCRs and colleges to register as charities, though the changes are being phased in gradually. Currently, only institutions with an income of over £100,000 must be registered. Magdalen JCR has an income of around £120,000.
JCRs and MCRs could also decide to register as a single charity with their colleges. But by registering as a charity independent of the college Magdalen JCR may extend control over its own finances.
Magdalen JCR’s motion to register independently will come into effect by the end of term.
Unlike the JCR, Magdalen MCR has decided to register with the college. MCR Secretary Jaani Riordan said the difference was that registering the MCR with the college would not add much burden on college administration.
He emphasised that the changes would have little practical effect and would not reduce “the relatively high degree of financial independence of the MCR”.
Other college JCR officers are aware of the changes to the law but have not decided yet which route to take.
Balliol College JCR – which has an income of £300,000 a year – is still considering both options. JCR President Alastair Travis was not aware of an exact deadline for registration but said: “We’re waiting to see what the college itself decides to do and, from that, decide what’s in the best interests of the JCR.”
James Kanimba, President of Harris Manchester JCR, said that the issue was “not yet on the agenda” as the income of the JCR is well below the threshold.
James Pontifex, Treasurer of the Corpus Christi JCR committee, has had several meetings with the Dean and college accountant. “I’ve been told Corpus has to register by 2013,” he said. The JCR has an income of around £60,000.
The process at Magdalen has been lengthy, requiring amendments to the constitution and regular meetings with the college authorities. JCR President Tom Meakin said that the committee had been working on the changes for a year and that he had not been aware that registration was necessary when he ran for the position: “My predecessor had little idea about any of this.”
Registering as a charity means that the JCR will have to create a board of trustees to oversee activities, communicate with the government Charities’ Commission, and ensure that accounts are kept in order. In Sunday’s general JCR meeting it was decided that the board will be chaired by the JCR President and other members will include two elected alumni, the Dean of Arts and the MCR Secretary.
Meakin said the most gain comes from registering separately, despite the JCR taking on a “more vulnerable legal position” as trustees become legally responsible for what happens to the organisation’s funds.
“Ultimately it’s a good thing,” he said. Students at Magdalen have more independence than they’ve ever had in their history.”
“It’s good to have more oversight in a complex organisation with a high turnover such as Magdalen.”
The JCR will no longer have to pay capital gains tax on its investments and has greater potential for fundraising in the future. Other JCRs need to be thinking ahead about the charities law, he suggested: “Presidents will have to be on the ball.”