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(d) the advancement of health

Published: 20/08/2015
Updated: 20/08/2015


(including the prevention or relief of sickness, disease or human suffering) 

This purpose covers advancing physical and mental health, conventional medicine and complementary or alternative therapies. Where non-conventional methods are used in the diagnosis, treatment or cure of health conditions we may ask for additional information.

What do we mean by advancing health?

To be charitable, advancing health generally means:

  • helping people to maintain or improve their health
  • preventing or curing ill-health and disease
  • providing formal or informal counselling or support
  • providing medical equipment and facilities
  • undertaking medical research
  • providing relief to those suffering from illness. 

When we look at applications to become a charity with this purpose we have to be sure that advancing health is actually what the organisation is set up to do. If any health benefit is a by-product of an organisation’s main activity, it is unlikely to provide public benefit under the advancement of health.

For example, providing children with outdoor play equipment may indirectly improve their general health, but it is more likely to provide public benefit under the provision of recreational facilities.

There is an overlap between activities that advance health and those that advance public participation in sport. Encouraging the public to take part in sport is charitable because of the positive health benefits it brings. An organisation advancing public participation in sport will need to have other activities which focus directly on improving health – such as providing information and support to improve the public’s diet – if it is to advance health as well.

What activities might provide public benefit when advancing this purpose?

In general, public benefit is the way that a charity makes a positive difference to the public. The activities can be direct and focus on curing disease, illness or relieving symptoms and suffering. Alternatively, they can be preventative activities aimed at improving public health more widely. Activities can indirectly advance health, for example providing support to families of the terminally ill. 

Non-conventional methods

Health can be advanced in different ways, using conventional medicines and approaches, alternative or complementary therapies, or a combination of methods. 

If an organisation wants to advance health using a non-conventional method, we often need further information to help us to decide whether the alternative or complementary therapy is independently recognised as effective. This is particularly important if the organisation plans to diagnose, treat or cure a health condition. Different standards of evidence will be required depending on how widely accepted or experimental the therapy is. 

For example, where an organisation claims to cure a form of cancer if sufferers follow a specific diet, we would expect the organisation to be able to provide a high level of independent, peer-reviewed evidence that the treatment is effective. Without this kind of evidence, it is difficult to show that the therapy will advance health and therefore be charitable. 

Such evidence is not required where an organisation intends to advance health by conducting or funding research into new treatments, since such activities are by their nature novel and experimental.

If the organisation does not intend to diagnose or cure sufferers, but simply aims to relieve their suffering, it may still be charitable under another purpose, the relief of those in need by reason of ill health, where a lower standard of evidence may be acceptable. 

Case 1: Application refused – lack of independent evidence

An organisation applied to become a charity with the advancement of health purpose. Its main activity would be to fund stem cell treatment for children with type 1 diabetes and autism in treatment centres overseas. 

We asked the organisation to provide independent, reputable evidence that this treatment was capable of helping children in the way that it claimed. The applicant was unable to supply evidence of the efficacy of stem cell treatment for either of these types of disorder. 

We conducted some online research, which suggested that while there was research interest in stem cell treatment for these disorders, this had not progressed to the stage of developing treatments. 

We looked at the information publicly available about the treatment, finding that it was at an experimental stage and had not been proven to be successful. We decided the activities of the organisation did not advance health and we refused the application.

Case 2: Successful application

An organisation applied to become a charity with the advancement of health purpose. Its main activity involved promoting breastfeeding and supporting new parents in a local area.

We had to decide if the activities advanced health as well as providing other benefits.

There is clear, independent evidence that breastfeeding has positive health benefits for mothers and babies. The application to become a charity was successful without us needing to ask any questions.

The House of Lords Report on complementary and alternative medicine sets out the legal considerations when looking at complementary and alternative medicines.