Alasdair Ross, Policy & Consultations Officer for ACVO TSI and Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action writes on The Charities and Administration (Scotland) Act 2023 passed into law earlier this summer which brought with it new measures to strengthen the role of OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
The aim of the new law is to enhance transparency and accountability among charities and their trustees in order to foster public confidence in Scotland’s charity sector. While many of OSCR’s current powers will remain unchanged, the ‘charity test,’ the role of charity trustees, and other aspects relating to the transparency of information will be strengthened. The intention is also to align Scottish charity law more closely with similar regulations in the rest of the UK.
The Scottish Government and OSCR will agree a timeline for implementing the changes in the coming months. Meantime, charities and trustees should make themselves aware of these impending changes and start to prepare themselves for some of the new information that will be required as part of OSCR’s annual return process. The phased introduction of changes will allow OSCR to engage with charities and advisors to ensure a smooth implementation process. The changes will be introduced gradually, affording charities time to prepare and OSCR to offer guidance and systems for a seamless transition. The ACVO team are also on hand to answer questions and point you in the right direction for support.
The main changes to the law include
Trustee Information: OSCR will publish trustee names on the public Scottish Charity Register and maintain a separate internal database with trustee contact details. Trustees can request non-publication for safety reasons.
Publishing Information: OSCR will share more data on its website and the Scottish Charity Register. This includes unredacted annual accounts for all charities and a list of trustees barred by courts. Merged charities will also be recorded.
Increased Inquiry Powers: OSCR’s authority will expand to include the investigation of former charities and trustees. Inquiry processes and information collection will be streamlined. The new power of ‘positive direction’ will allow OSCR to give instructions trustees in specific cases.
Disqualification: Automatic disqualification of charity trustees will broaden to cover offenses like bribery, terrorist group association, and sexual offenses. This will also apply to senior managers within charities. OSCR can appoint interim trustees when necessary.
Charity Removal: OSCR can remove charities from the Scottish Charity Register if they don’t submit accounts or communicate with OSCR.
Connection to Scotland: OSCR can reject charity status for those with minimal connections to Scotland. Existing charities must maintain Scottish ties to remain on the Register, except for genuine cross-border charities.
We recommend that all charities sign up to the OSCR Newsletter to ensure you receive the most up to date information about changes to the regulations and to be notified when the changes are coming in to force. In the meantime, we encourage you to continue to keep your accounts up to date, to ensure you have accurate records of Trustees and to ensure the contact details held by OSCR for your organisation are correct. This will put you in the best possible position to manage the changes.
Essential information for all charity trustees and senior managers
As a result of these changes to the law, OSCR are proposing a number of changes to the annual return process adding new questions and requiring more information. The new questions should not be difficult to answer for someone with knowledge of how their organisation operates. OSCR have issued detailed information on the proposed changes and are asking for feedback from the sector. You can access the document here. ACVO’s strongly advises all charity trustees and senior managers to take the time to read and understand this information and to inform any staff or volunteers who are part of the annual return process. If you need any help from the ACVO team in navigating this information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
This article originally appeared in the September edition of ACVO News, you can read the magazine and subscribe below. All past editions are available to read at acvo.org.uk/acvo-news