Election Glossary

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Associations in the UK can be incorporated under company law, but there are also unincorporated associations which have no general legal basis. Lord Justice Lawton gave a basic definition of unincorporated associations in his judgement in the Conservative and Unionist Central Office v Burrell case in 1981:

"unincorporated association" [means] two or more persons bound together for one or more common purposes, not being business purposes, by mutual undertakings, each having mutual duties and obligations, in an organisation which has rules which identify in whom control of it and its funds rests and upon what terms and which can be joined or left at will.

There is no regulatory body for unincorporated associations and they are not bound by specific legislation, although some case law applies to them. Usually, associations are not-for-profit membership organisations which share a common purpose rather than aiming for profits. Typical examples of unincorporated associations are voluntary organisations, sports clubs, housing associations or community groups.

Governance of associations

Since there is no general legal framework for unincorporated associations, they are free to stipulate their own bylaws. The main contents covered in bylaws are the aim of the association, details concerning the board of management, members’ benefits and duties, meetings, finances, dissolution and among others. In addition, the board of directors will be elected to run the unincorporated association on behalf of the members. 


Many charities are set up as unincorporated associations which are managed by a so-called board of trustees. If the association has charitable aims and the annual income exceeds £5000, it may need to register with the Charity Commission. Moreover, charity law and other requirements may now apply to the association. 

See also: Association bylaws , Bylaws

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