New guidance for museums and galleries has been published by The Charity Commission in its report ?Museums and Art Galleries?, which draws attention to the criteria that must be met for an organisation to qualify for registered charity status.
The Charity Commission is responsible for the statutory regulation of charities in England and Wales, and the new guidance has been produced as part of its ongoing efforts to re-interpret existing charity law against the backdrop of changing social and technological circumstances.

For museums and galleries to qualify for charity status they must demonstrate their benefit to the public, which means that collections must have educational or artistic merit and offer sufficient public access. The new guidance has been published following a consultation last year, which looked at a wide range of issues, including the way that artistic or educational value is established and how to make decisions when that value is not clear. A number of key points have now been established. Organisations recognised under the Registration of Museums scheme will automatically be recognised by the Charity Commission for the purposes of merit; but when the intrinsic merit of a collection needs to be established the Commission will rely on experts in the sector to supply evidence. Charity Commission Director of Policy, Rosie Chapman, said ?We recognise that one person?s art may be another?s unmade bed. But providing there is an expert view to support the artistic or educational value of a collection we?ll be taking an inclusive view. We are keen to encourage innovation and to support the sector?s commitment to education and social relevance.?

Other issues covered in the guidance relate to ?benefit to the public?, which historically has been demonstrated through exhibitions and outreach activities, but museums and galleries will now be able to make a case for public access through the internet and other media. More detailed guidance is provided for trustees on how to avoid any unacceptable private benefit; and museums and galleries are encouraged towards greater transparency, specifically in reporting visitor numbers, ownership and opening hours. The report also gives guidance that is relevant to grant-making charities in evaluating funding applications from museums and galleries.

No wholesale removals from the register are anticipated to result from the new guidance although some charities may need to review their operations, and the Commission will provide support to any organisations that need to do this. The report is available at http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk