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When is a gift not a gift?

Photo of Kevin Russell Kevin Russell
4 min

In general terms a ‘gift’ is something freely given, with no expectation of anything in return. If something is received in return, either contractually or as a reciprocal benefit, the ‘gift’ is not actually a gift.

In the context of charitable giving the Gift Aid rules do not permit a giver to receive a benefit ‘in consequence of making their gift’ other than where it is very small and within so called ‘de minimis’ rules. Donations that pay for a contractual obligation are also not gift-aidable.

This is why sometimes we need to ask detailed questions before agreeing to make a donation from a giver’s account to the recipient that they have nominated.

Let’s look at some common examples:

Donations to individuals in, or studying for, Christian ministry

Where an individual makes a gift to another individual, clearly this cannot be gift aided as there is no charity involved. However, if the gift is made to Stewardship, Gift Aid can be claimed and the giver can ask for us to make a donation to the individual recipient.

Having made a charitable gift to Stewardship, we must make sure that the funds, including the tax reclaimed are used for charitable purposes only, under English law. Three occasions where we intervene to ensure this is the case are:

Donations from a close relative’s giving account to a Full Time Christian Worker ('FTCW'). HMRC regard this as providing a benefit, by association, to the giver and therefore this is not permitted. The one exception to this is where the donation request is to fund ministry expenses – that is the cost of equipment, training, materials and other facilities relating to the FTCW’s ministry.

Total support for the FTCW exceeds a pre-defined amount. We set a cap on the total amount that a FTCW can receive from us each year, to ensure that this remains charitable in law. Donations that approach the cap will trigger a review and, in appropriate cases, an increase in the cap.

When we are asked to support a Bible College student, we make payment to the student rather than the college. Therefore, even if that support is used to pay tuition fees, there is no contractual payment.

Donations to overseas causes

This is a complex area. But in general, it is not possible to make a gift direct to an overseas charity and claim gift aid relief. Rather, one can give to a UK charity for them to claim Gift Aid and for them to make the gift overseas. The charity would need to undertake additional checks required by HMRC for overseas payments first and must not be directed to make the payment to the overseas cause.

Further detail is given in our Briefing Paper, “Guide to Churches Making Payments Overseas”.

Paying for mission trips

This is very dependent on the way that an organisation structures and communicates their mission opportunities. But, if there is a fee or minimum amount that participants must raise in order to participate, it is likely that gifts towards the mission trip will not qualify for Gift Aid.

For more detail on this, please refer to our Briefing Paper “When a Charity’s income is not its income

Membership subscriptions & National Trust

Some charities such as the National Trust benefit from special legislation enabling membership subscriptions to be Gift Aided in respect of rights of admission to property. However, more generally, subscriptions cannot be Gift Aided where the benefits of membership exceed the permitted limit.


Buying an item at a charity auction is not a gift, but a contractual payment. However, where the amount paid exceeds the market value of the benefits procured, it may be possible to Gift Aid the overpaid portion of the payment. This is called the ‘split payments rule.’ Further explanation of this can be found on the Gov.uk website.

School fees

Payment of school fees, even if the school is a charity, cannot be made under Gift Aid since this is a contractual payment; nor should other charities make payments for fees of specified students from Gift Aided funds. It is however possible to fund bursaries for students more generally.

Gifts with conditions

Where the donor places conditions on the use of their gift, the gift is potentially disqualified for Gift Aid purposes. The analysis here is tricky and readers are recommended to read our Briefing Paper “When a charity’s income is not its income” for a detailed explanation of this including the distinction between ‘restricted fund’ donations and conditional gifts.



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Written by

Kevin Russell

Kevin is a technical expert with over 25 years of experience of helping churches and Christian charities maximise their potential. His knowledge is sought not only by charitable organisations but by Government, the Charity Commission and HMRC.

Prior to working for Stewardship, Kevin had a wide range of business, charity and teaching experience and is a qualified chartered accountant, and a chartered tax advisor. 

Kevin and his wife Carol have 3 adult children and one grandchild.  They attend Grace Church, Highlands in North London. Causes close to Kevin and Carol’s hearts are those working directly with the homeless, with drug addicts, and women in prostitution. Organisations working in evangelism amongst young people, in family life and demonstrating Christian love in action in the public sphere.


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