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Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to the questions we're most often asked by the public. You'll find more FAQs asked by charities and other organisations here.

Below you will find answers to our frequently asked questions on Becoming a Charity. Click on each question to find the answer.

Setting up a charity can be very rewarding but also a lot of work. Voluntary organisations don't have to be charities to carry out charitable activities or do fundraising, as long as you don't claim to be a charity. If you are thinking of setting up a charity you should think carefully about the advantages and disadvantages for your organisation before making a decision. Another option is to consider working with an existing charity in your chosen field.

If you do become a charity you will have legal responsibilities, duties and restrictions. You will have to report to OSCR every year and provide accounts; give certain information to the public about what you do and how you do it.

Being a charity can give the public confidence in supporting you and may help encourage donors. It can also open up funding opportunities.

Find out more about becoming a charity and Being a Charity in Scotland.

The charity test is the legal set of requirements that an organisation must meet to become a charity and be entered in the Scottish Charity Register.

To pass the charity test your organisation will have to meet the following requirements:

  • it must have only charitable purposes and
  • its activities must provide public benefit in Scotland or elsewhere.

Put simply, public benefit is the way your charity makes a positive difference through the activities it does to advance its charitable purposes.

You cannot meet the charity test if:

  1. Your governing document allows the charity’s assets to be used for a non-charitable purpose. This applies during the lifetime of the charity and when it is being wound up (closed down).
  2. Your governing document expressly permits government Ministers to control the charity’s activities. This applies to both Scottish and UK Ministers.
  3. You are set up to be a political party or advance a political party. This doesn’t stop a charity campaigning or lobbying to advance its charitable purposes.

Find out more about the charity test.

Charitable purposes are the first requirement of the charity test. Your charity’s purposes will be set out in your governing document. They say what the aims of your charity are and what it has been set up to achieve. They might be called objects, aims or purposes.

Your charity’s purposes don’t need to be exactly the same as the charitable purposes in the 2005 Act, but it should be easy to see how they relate to them. Detailed guidance about each purpose can be found in our Meeting the Charity Test: Guidance.

A charity's governing document is the written statement that sets out its purpose, structure and describes how it will operate.

The charity trustees must make sure that the charity follows its governing document, which usually contains key information about:

  • what the charity exists to do (its charitable purposes)
  • what powers it has to achieve its charitable purposes
  • who the charity trustees are, how many charity trustees there should be and how they are appointed and removed
  • whether the charity has any members and if so who can be a member
  • rules about charity trustees' and members' (if any) meetings, how they are arranged and conducted and how decisions are made and recorded
  • how to change the governing document
  • how to close the charity down.

The name given to the governing document will depend on your charity's legal form.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has model governing documents for the different legal forms which will usually be acceptable to OSCR. There are also model governing documents for specific types of charities, like Playgroups or Housing Associations. If there is already a model available we recommend that you use that.

When choosing a name you should be careful that it is not 'objectionable' under charity law. Generally this means that is should not:

  1. Be the same as or too similar to an existing charity.
  2. Mislead the public about what your organisation is going to be doing.
  3. Give the impression that you are connected with another organisation (unless you are connected with them). 
  4. Be offensive.

If we think the name is objectionable we will contact you to tell you why. Ultimately if we can't resolve the name problem then we may have to refuse your application to be a charity. See our name change guidance for more information.

Once you've read the guidance and made the decision to apply to become a charity then you need to send us:

  • a completed application form,
  • signed Trustee Declaration forms,
  • your Governing document (a draft is fine),
  • where possible a Business Plan or similar document that tells us what you plan to do and
  • if you're already up and running a copy of your latest accounts.

See our application forms and guidance for more information.

We aim to assess applications to become a charity within 90 days and we will acknowledge the application within 10 days of receiving it. Sometimes, our assessment may take longer if the application is complex or we need to get more information. One of the most common reasons for applications taking time is because we don't have enough information at the start.

No. We can't help you set up a charity or decide if it's the right option for you but there are advice and support organisations that can. The main ones are your local Third Sector Interface (TSI) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).

No. It is free to apply and to register a charity.

If you have concerns about a charity or an organisation representing itself as a charity, please contact us. We will normally expect you to have contacted the charity trustees first.

Phone: 01382 220446 and ask for the Compliance & Investigations team.

To tell if the bag is from a registered Scottish charity look to see if it has the charity name and Scottish charity number on it. All Scottish Charity numbers begin SC0 followed by five numbers e.g. SC012345. You can find out if an organisation is a Scottish charity by searching the Scottish Charity Register.

Some charities are registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, but not in Scotland, in which case they must state this on their bags. 

Sometimes charities use businesses to collect bags on their behalf; if they do this they must still put their charity details on the bag.

More information can be found in our leaflet on doorstep collections.   

Find out more information on our Fundraising page.