11 Oct 2019

New court date for Destiny Church over charity deregistration

From Checkpoint, 6:10 pm on 11 October 2019

Nearly two years after several Destiny Church branches were supposedly stripped of their charitable status, they are still operating without paying tax.

Two of Destiny's charities were taken off the Charities Register in 2017, but they appealed that decision and the case has been tied up in the courts ever since.

Destiny International Trust and Te Hahi o Nga Matamua Holdings - both part of the Destiny International Group - were warned in early 2017 that the Charities Registration Board intended to remove them, because of their persistent failure to file annual returns.

The charities - two of the church's biggest - filed formal objections but the board removed them anyway saying it was "in the public interest".

Last week the two charities finally filed returns for 2018 - a year after they were due - which reveal they incurred a loss of more than half a million dollars, and their current liabilities exceeded assets by more than $1 million dollars.

Group auditor Grant Thornton said the conditions it is facing indicate a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the group's ability to continue as a going concern.

Destiny declined to comment on the returns, but provided this written statement: "Destiny Church and its entities continue to work with independent auditors, Grant Thornton, in the preparation of our annual returns for the Charities Services requirements".

Professor emeritus Peter Lineham said the church faced growing competition in the religious sector.

"Destiny is not attracting the kind of support it once had. There's a real decline in people's willingness to give and that could well be reflected in willingness to attend, or really the significance of Destiny in the South Auckland religious world."

Brian Tamaki speaking at an earlier protest

Brian Tamaki speaking at an earlier protest Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

But despite the de-registration in December 2017, both charities remain registered nearly two years on.

Waikato University charity law specialist Juliet Chevalier-Watts said that was because charities remained on the register throughout the appeal process.

"As it stands at the moment there is nothing that they have done that's inappropriate as far as the court's concerned, yet - obviously we're waiting for the cases to be heard and once those case is then released then decisions can be made as to whether they may well be re-registered or to be kept on the register.

"As it stands I think that yes, it's appropriate that they continue to do business as usual and to be carrying out the public good, which is what they're supposed to be doing.

She said Charity Services were thorough operators and would be following due process.

"I've not seen any issues arising due to length of process or the way in which they deal with things, but with some situations they can be very complex and they can take a long period of time to resolve."

The hearing is set down for the High Court in Wellington at the end of this month.