Origins, History and Functions
The Registry of Friendly Societies grew out of the Friendly Societies Act 1829 which provided that the rules of friendly societies should be certified by the barrister appointed by the National Debt Commissioners under the Act of 1828 to certify the rules of savings banks in England, and by corresponding officers in Scotland and Ireland. Under the Friendly Societies Act 1846 these three officers were respectively constituted the registrars of friendly societies for England, Scotland and Ireland.
Acts to cover industrial and provident societies (primarily 'co-operative societies'), building societies, trade unions, etc, were all offshoots from the early legislation concerning friendly societies; and the registrars' original functions of registration were from time to time expanded in various ways by statutory machinery designed to promote and protect the welfare of the industrial classes. The Friendly Societies Act 1875 which resulted from the report of a royal commission appointed in 1870, effected a reorganisation, providing for a Central Office of the Registry consisting of a chief registrar and assistant registrars for England, and for assistant registrars for Scotland and Ireland, subordinate to the chief registrar.
The powers and duties of the registrar were gradually extended and widened. The political funds of the trade unions in 1913, industrial assurance in 1923, and certain superannuation funds in 1927, were brought within his field of concern. The Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act 1939, the Societies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1940, the House Purchase and Housing Act 1959 and the Building Societies Act 1960 added to his responsibilities. Under the Industrial Assurance Act 1923 the chief registrar of friendly societies became also the industrial assurance commissioner and was charged with the supervision and control of collecting friendly societies and of the industrial assurance business of assurance companies. At the same time the title of the department was extended to 'Registry of Friendly Societies and Office of the Industrial Assurance Commissioner'. The chief registrar presented an annual report to Parliament. His report as industrial assurance commissioner was made separately until 1969 when it was incorporated in Part I of the Chief Registrar's Report.
The Registry was in general subordinate to the Treasury in which the various statutory powers relating to its work were vested. Its administrative duties covered examination of the proposed rules of any society applying for registration, or of any amendment in its rules; powers of investigation and inspection in case of suspected irregularities in a society; prescription of the form in which financial returns shall be made, and the power to prosecute any society which does not submit an annual return or a quinquennial valuation; functions in connection with the termination of societies by dissolution, amalgamation or transfer of engagements; and the power to cancel registration of a society.
The Registry also exercised certain judicial functions concerning disputes, including those between a society and its members; those under the Industrial Assurance Act 1923 between holders of industrial assurance policies and collecting societies or industrial assurance companies; and those under the Trustee Savings Bank Act between savings banks and any depositor or rival claimant to a deposit, a jurisdiction which was extended to cover disputes relating to deposits in the National (formerly Post Office) Savings Bank, railway savings banks and the Birmingham Municipal Bank, and to National Savings Certificates, Premium Savings Bonds and other investments formerly made through the Post Office and since 1969 through the Department for National Savings.
Section 63 of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 created the office of Chief Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers Associations, and that Act further provided for the Registrar of Friendly Societies' functions in respect of trade unions to be transferred to the new Chief Registrar.
On 30 November 2001, by the terms of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Mutual Societies) Order, SI 2001/2617, the responsibilities and powers of the Central Office of the Registry and those of the Assistant Registrar in Scotland were transferred to the Financial Services Authority, or on policy issues to the Treasury, and the offices of Chief Registrar, Scottish Registrar and Assistant Registrar were abolished.