Yachting syndicate Team New Zealand is among dozens of organisations that have lost their charitable status in a crackdown by the new Charities Commission.

The commission has ruled Team NZ exists mainly for its own benefit, rather than a general public benefit, and should therefore not be registered.

The Freemasons movement was denied registration on the same grounds, while the National Council of Women, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Greenpeace and other groups were ruled to be "advocacy" groups rather than "charities". The rulings mean the organisations automatically lose their tax-exempt status, though they can still apply to Inland Revenue to keep tax deductibility for their donors.

Team New Zealand and Greenpeace have appealed the commission's decision to the High Court, with six others.

Team NZ head Grant Dalton said the syndicate would point to its charitable activities in New Zealand rather than its international racing. "The team feels that its support both financially and otherwise of such activities as the NZ Coast Guard, the Ngati Whatua o Orakei learn-to-sail programme and yacht club youth sailing activities qualifies it under the new act," he said.

Greenpeace director Bunny McDiarmid said she was appealing "as a matter of principle".

"We believe it is worth having a debate around what a charitable organisation is, whether charitable status should be denied because an organisation engages in campaigning and advocacy, and whether the 100-year-old law that governs such decisions is still relevant today," she said.

The 2005 Charities Act draws on 400 years of court judgments on the word "charitable" to define charitable purpose as "every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community", provided that it is for the "public benefit".

However, even some church-based organisations such as the Whakatane-based Liberty Trust have been deregistered because the commission has ruled that they are "similar to a mutual fund or co-operative scheme for the benefit of members", rather than for general public benefit.

Liberty Trust was set up by two churches in 1989 to provide zero-interest mortgages to individuals or couples who buy their first homes after donating money to the trust for 10 years. They are allowed to borrow up to five times the amount donated.

Chairman Kelvin Deal said the trust was unique in the Western world.

The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations of Aotearoa yesterday urged the commission to put all deregistration decisions on hold until a review of the law, due in 2012.

"The problem is this 400-year-old definition," a spokesman said.

"The UK is moving away from that definition to something that is more based in public understanding of what a charity is, and there is a High Court case going on in Australia too."

A spokeswoman for Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Tariana Turia said the issue was an operational matter and she did not plan to intervene.


Delisted organisations:

*Team NZ (yachting)
*National Council of Women
*Freemasons (clubs)
*Greenpeace (conservation)
*Sensible Sentencing Trust
*NZ Computer Society
*Liberty Trust (home-lending)
*Enterprise North Shore
*Mancan (Canterbury manufacturers)