The Friendly Societies and Industrial and Provident Societies Bill 2013, which is aimed at relieving the regulatory burden on co-operative societies, has been published. It is hoped that the Bill will make it easier to start up and run a co-operative as an alternative form of enterprise organisation.

This follows the reduction in 2012 in the fees for business transacted with the Register of Friendly Societies, who registers co-operative societies, of between 33% and 80%.

This new Bill is primarily aimed at easing the regulatory burden on co-operative societies and making it easier and more attractive to run a co-operative. The Bill takes on board many of the issues raised by the co-operative sector itself as being areas of difficulty or constraint for the sector. In particular, it will: 

  • Allow individual societies to set their own limit on individual shareholdings in the society;
  • Ease financial reporting restrictions by extending the period for the preparation and submission of the annual return and accounts;
  • Make it easier for cancelled societies to be restored to the register; and
  • Ease fund-raising restrictions for non-agricultural societies.

In addition, the legislation will make the Examinership process, currently available only to companies, an option for co-operative societies which might find themselves in difficulties. 

The Bill also makes changes to the legislation governing friendly societies. According to the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, there are currently just 47 friendly societies (mostly charitable or benevolent societies) registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and many of these have relatively low levels of activity.