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Organisations promoting alternative medicine can still get charity status despite new guidance

Humanists UK has raised concerns that organisations with an agenda to promote so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicines’ such as homeopathy will still be able to register as legal charities, after a disappointing ruling by the Charity Commission.

The Charity Commission today announced it will introduce new guidance on how organisations that promote complementary and alternative medicines can demonstrate that they meet the necessary ‘public benefit’ criteria needed to register as a charity.

Nearly two years after holding a consultation on this issue, to which Humanists UK responded, the new guidance will mean organisations that claim that their remedies can ‘cure’ diseases will ‘need to provide robust medical evidence’ to be able to register as a charity.

However it is unclear whether this evidence will be equivalent to those required of conventional medicines. The criteria for organisations that claim that remedies offer comfort or relief, rather than a cure, would not be required to present any evidence in support of their claims beyond subjective patient testimonies.

The Charity Commission offers an example of the case of cancer patients. An organisation promoting complementary remedies ‘would not necessarily need to show that the therapy has any positive effect on the medical outcomes for cancer patients. Instead, it would need to provide reasonable evidence that its approach is capable of providing relief and comfort to those undergoing cancer treatment, for example in the form of robust patient reported outcome studies.’

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘Although we are pleased that the new guidance will place a more appropriate burden of proof to some of the more extreme claims made by organisations promoting these remedies, this is a missed opportunity by the Charity Commission to bring in a robust and evidence-led approach to charity registration.

‘Without requiring robust medical evidence to support all claims of the efficacy of these remedies, it falls short of the Commission’s aims of creating greater public confidence.’


For further comment or information, please contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan on or 07951 176 245.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on ‘complementary and alternative medicine’:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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