NCVO and Social Enterprise UK
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Introduction: Co-operative Structures

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 a registered society, there are many different legal forms that can be used to create an organisation which falls within this definition. For example a company limited by guarantee could be used. One of the key features is usually 'one member one vote'.

Community benefit and co-operative society are the two main co-operative legal structures. The difference between the two is in the stakeholder groups that the society is set up to benefit. A co-operative society 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.

Co-ops UK provide useful information in this area.