Scotland's charity regulator

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Read about OSCR and our work.

We are the independent registrar and regulator of Scotland's 23,500 charities, including community groups, care providers, environmental groups, religious charities, schools, universities, leisure facilities, and grant-giving charities.

We are a Non-Ministerial Department, which means that we do not report directly to Scottish Ministers but to the Scottish Parliament.  Based in Dundee, we have 55 staff and an annual spend of around £3million.

"Our vision is for charities you can trust and that provide public benefit."

We were established under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, the first legislation dedicated specifically to the governance of the Scottish charity sector.  The 2005 Act sets out our powers and gives us five specific functions:

  • We consider applications from organisations seeking to become charities
  • We publish and maintain the Scottish Charity Register
  • We monitor charities and work to encourage their compliance with the 2005 Act
  • We receive and investigate complaints about charities and have powers to address misconduct
  • We provide information and make recommendations to Scottish Ministers on charity matters.

Since April 2006, we have granted charitable status to over 5,000 new charities and removed some 8,000 defunct charities from the Register.

Our Annual Review sets out our work over the past year and provides key statistics and information.

This area of the website will be developed further over the course of this year and will include useful links and Frequently Asked Questions.  Why not make it a favourite, or bookmark us to view new items, or subscribe to our RSS feeds or our e-newsletter, OSCR Reporter, for the latest developments?

You can also follow us on Twitter! @ScotCharityReg

Why is charity regulation important?

OSCR as regulator provides reassurance and transparency to the public about charities.  Some 23,500 charities are registered in Scotland, and their combined income is estimated at around £10billion a year.  Charities depend ultimately on funding and donations from the public, and regulation means that charities account to the public for the assets they hold and show that they are working to deliver their stated charitable purposes.

Our research indicates that the public - and charities themselves - value the reassurance that our role and work provides.  When we carried out our most recent survey:

  • 95% of the public said that our role is essential or important
  • 71% of the public said that knowing about OSCR gives them more trust in charities
  • 89% of charities said that our documentation is now 'part and parcel' of what they do.

You can read our most recent stakeholder research here.

The Scottish Charity Register

The 2005 Act gives the legal definition of a charity as a body entered in the Scottish Charity Register.

The Scottish Charity Register is updated on a daily basis, and allows the public to check whether an organisation is a charity.  Each charity's Register entry also provides financial information, including a charity's submissions history in providing its accounts to OSCR.  The Register entry will show where a charity is late in submitting its accounts, and where we issue a Direction to a charity to take certain action.  Larger charities have more detailed financial information displayed through charts and graphs.

You can search the Register for charities by name, by Scottish Charity Number, by charitable purposes or by local authority area.  You can also search for ceased charities, charities that are late in submitting returns, and charities that have applied to OSCR to reorganise.

How must charities report to OSCR?

Every charity must complete an Annual Return form and provide us with a set of its accounts within 9 months of its accounting year end.  Larger charities - those with an annual income over £25,000 - must also complete a Supplementary Monitoring Return form which provides more detailed financial information.  We revised our forms with the launch of our new online services in June 2012, to make these easier to complete.

Where a charity fails to submit its returns and accounts on time, we take steps to re-engage with the charity.  We have powers to take action and where we determine that public benefit is not being provided, we may remove the charity from the Register.

How is OSCR run?

We have a Board, Chaired by The Very Reverend Dr Graham Forbes CBE, which sets our strategic direction.  Our operational priorities are delivered by OSCR staff headed by our Chief Executive, David Robb, and our Senior Management Team.  OSCR has four operational teams:

  • Registration
  • Engagement
  • Enforcement
  • Support Services.

Elsewhere in our website, you can find information about OSCR's governance, including our performance statistics and information about our Board Members and Senior Management Team.

Information about charities

The public is entitled to ask for certain information from charities direct.  Section 23 of the 2005 Act entitles you to a charity's most recent set of accounts and a copy of its constitution.  Because these documents are publicly available, we do not publish them ourselves.  Should a charity refuse to provide this information on reasonable request, we would view this as potential misconduct and may take action against it.

Fundraising

Fundraising activities are largely self-regulated by the sector, through the Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of Fundraising

You do not have to be a registered charity to raise funds. Individuals, communities and commercial businesses may raise funds for charitable purposes, or on behalf of a specific charity.  However, certain rules do apply. Under self-regulation, fundraisers are expected to meet certain standards that are set by the Institute of Fundraising and are set out in the Institute's Code of Fundraising Practice.

Giving wisely

Before you give a donation, you may want to find out more about the organisation you are giving money to. Together with the UK's other charity regulators in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, we have published guidance for the public on doorstep collections.

Concerns about fundraising

If you have a complaint about bad fundraising practice by a charity, you should contact the charity directly first. A charity is ultimately responsible for its own fundraising and any activities that professional fundraisers are carrying out on its behalf. You can search our online Register for charities' addresses and website details.

Bad fundraising practice

If you are unhappy with the charity's response, and your concern is about bad fundraising practice, such as how you were approached in the street by a fundraiser, please contact the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), which is the independent body that deals with public complaints.

If you are in Scotland, you can contact the FRSB with a general enquiry or to make a complaint at infoscotland@frsb.org.uk

Advertising by fundraisers

If you have a concern about advertising relating to fundraising, contact the Advertising Standards Authority  You can read ASA's guide to making a complaint here.

The Scottish Charity Regulator and fundraising concerns

We have powers to act where an organisation is claiming to be a charity but is not entered in the Scottish Charity Register. 

Charity trustees should ensure their charity acts responsibly and legally. We must be proportionate and fair and will usually intervene only if there is a clear and significant risk to charitable assets or the reputation of the charity or charity sector in general.    

Generally we will take up a complaint against a charity involving fundraising where there is evidence of serious wrongdoing or misconduct, for instance where fundraising is:

  • losing a lot of the charity's money
  • being used for personal profit
  • supporting criminal or terrorist activity.

Complaining about a charity

Our experience is that wilful misconduct among charities in Scotland is very rare.  We handle around 400 complaints about charities each year, the great majority of which are resolved through dialogue between ourselves and the charity concerned.  In some cases we will make recommendations to the charity's trustees to improve how the charity works, or we may direct them to take certain actions.  In some cases we have applied to the Court to protect the assets of a charity or to suspend a charity's trustees.

Our Inquiry and Intervention Policy sets out our remit and our powers, and what the public, charities and complainers can expect from us.

We also have an online complaints form which you can view here.