Guidance on charities with similar names

Posted: 8th November 2018

ChecklistIf charities are too similarly named there is an obvious risk of confusion on the part of donors and others. In tackling one such issue a tribunal had to consider whether the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’ mean essentially the same thing.

The Cambridge Islamic College (CIC) and the Cambridge Muslim College (CMC) are based close together in the city whose name each of them bears. Both are companies limited by guarantee and educational charities with a focus on Islamic studies, the former having been registered as such in 2015 and the latter in 2010.

In exercise of its power under Section 42(1) of the Charities Act 2011, the Charity Commission for England and Wales directed CIC to change its name on the basis that it was ‘too like’ that of CMC. The Commission noted evidence of confusion amongst potential donors, and the public at large. It took the view that the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’ are essentially interchangeable.

The direction was, however, subsequently overturned by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT). It found that the two words, and the names of the two colleges, were clearly different. The word ‘Islamic’ was generally used in connection with the religion itself, whereas ‘Muslim’ enjoyed much broader usage, usually referring to followers of Islam and anything that may be associated with them. The words ‘Cambridge’ and ‘College’ formed parts of the titles of many institutions, but did not cause confusion.

In ruling on the Commission’s challenge to that decision, the Upper Tribunal (UT) found that the FTT had applied too narrow a test. When assessing whether the colleges' names were too alike, it had wrongly focused entirely on aural or visual similarity.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the UT found that, even when the conceptual similarity of the two words was taken into consideration, the colleges' names were not so alike as to require CIC to change its title. The FTT had previously urged the colleges to settle their differences so as to avoid further expenditure of charitable funds on the dispute.