Types and Models

Co-operatives are flexible with different forms for different types of members. The choice of model will depend on your members and how you engage with them.

For instance, if you are a smaller co-operative and your primary focus is your co-workers, a worker co-operative may be the best form of business. If your members are primarily your customers, you can form a consumer co-operative.  A geographical community or people with common interests come together to form a community benefit society (BenCom). These are enterprises that are owned and controlled by people belonging to a particular community. Normally they will carry out the activities that are of benefit to a defined community.

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) Statement on the Co-operative Identity describes a co-operative as ‘an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise’. All co-operative organisations operate under the ICA co-operative values and principles.

While the co-operative organisation are usually first thought of as an Industrial and Provident society (IPS) Co-operative, there are many different legal forms that can be used to create an organisation which falls within this definition. One of the key features is usually ‘one member one vote’.

Community benefit societies (also known as ‘BenCom’) and co-operative societies (also known as ‘bona fide co-operative’) are the two main IPS legal structures. The difference between the two is in the stakeholder groups that the society is set up to benefit. An IPS co-operative is set up to benefit its members, whereas a IPS community benefit society is set up to benefit the community more widely, whether people are members or not.

Societies are registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 1969. The governing document is called “Rules” and “Model Rules”, standard form of same, are available from sponsoring bodies. In Northern Ireland, the registration is carried out by the Registrar based in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

For further information, contact us.