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Revitalising Trusts Project

In February 2021, we reported that OSCR was planning to embark on a new two-year project in collaboration with Foundation Scotland to make contact with charitable trusts that appear to be inactive and to offer support to their charity trustees with plans for breathing new life into their dormant or underused funds. We are very pleased to announce that the Revitalising Trusts Project has now started with the appointment by Foundation Scotland of a part-time Project Advisor, Steff Bell. Steff will be working closely with OSCR colleagues over the next few months to identify trusts that match the Project criteria.  More news about the Project will appear on this page as it progresses but here we answer some commonly asked questions to introduce the Project.

OSCR and Foundation Scotland have signed up to a Joint Working Agreement which sets out how they will work together to deliver the aims of the Revitalising Trusts Project. Through the Project, Foundation Scotland will be contacting charities using records held by OSCR. Essentially, the agreement clarifies the lawful basis on which OSCR can share information about charities and their trustees while ensuring proper protection of personal data. This is the first occasion that OSCR has worked in a formal collaboration with a charity in this way and the Agreement reflects the care that is being taken to get the relationship right. You can read the agreement in full here.

 

The Revitalising Trusts Project has been launched to ensure funds from underactive or dormant charitable trusts are ‘unlocked’ to support good causes across Scotland.

OSCR is working in collaboration with Foundation Scotland, Scotland’s community foundation  to enable this to happen.

For this Project, OSCR has defined an underactive or dormant trust as one which has:

  • Not spent or received any money in the last five years; or
  • Spent less than 30% of its income in the last five years; or
  • Failed to send OSCR annual accounts during the last five years.

Even though many of these trusts are very small, collectively they hold a significant amount which could make a huge difference to local communities if we can revitalise them.

A similar project has been enormously successful in England, and since 2018, it has revitalised over £50million of inactive funds. This money has been distributed to  UKCF, local community foundations and other charities, funding vital community projects throughout the country.

 

OSCR’s vision is for charities that make a positive contribution and in which the public has confidence. The public quite rightly expects charities to use their funds effectively to improve the lives of people and communities.

OSCR keeps a public Register of charities which is periodically reviewed to ensure that all entries on the Register continue to meet the ‘charity test’.

To remain registered as a charity a body must provide public benefit. OSCR looks at the activities of charities to decide whether they provide public benefit. If a charity is inactive, or it appears to be carrying on very little activity, it may not be providing public benefit. The risk is greater if the charity appears to have been inactive for some time.

 

OSCR and Foundation Scotland are committed to seeing charities provide public benefit and making a difference to Scotland’s communities. Together the two organisations have the resources and experience to assist charities in their journey to ensuring that they can continue to do so.

Foundation Scotland has appointed a Project Advisor who will be working closely with charity trustees to assist them in addressing any issues of inactivity (with support from OSCR). She will also link the experience and knowledge of the Foundation Scotland team with regard to grant giving, fund management and local community funding.

A reference group made up of charity specialists from across Scotland will oversee the Project.

Your trust will be contacted only if it appears to be inactive, dormant or carrying on very little activity based on the criteria explained above. This will be based on the information in your annual accounts and annual returns for the past five years. You may also be contacted if you have not sent annual accounts or annual returns to OSCR during the past five years.

The principal contact for your trust will receive a letter or email from OSCR, explaining that your trust is going to be referred to Foundation Scotland. This way you can be sure that the contact is genuine.

If you are not sure who your principal contact is, you can check your charity’s entry on the charity register, here https://www.oscr.org.uk/about-charities/search-the-register/register-search/

If your principal contact information is out of date or inaccurate please use OSCR Online to update it or email OSCR at info@oscr.org.uk

Your principal contact should share the letter with all the charity trustees as soon as possible. You will be asked to respond to it within four weeks by contacting OSCR at trusts.project@oscr.org.uk When you respond you should either:

  • confirm that you are willing to be contacted by Foundation Scotland about taking part in the Project; or
  • provide OSCR with more information that you would like us to consider before deciding whether to refer your trust to Foundation Scotland. This could be more information about your activities or an explanation for why your trust has not been active over recent years.

If OSCR does not hear from you within four weeks we will pass your charity details to the Project Advisor at Foundation Scotland who will contact you about the Project.

If you think your trust has been wrongly contacted by OSCR you should respond to the letter within four weeks and explain why. It is possible that the information we hold about your trust is inaccurate or out of date, in which case we can correct it before deciding whether you should still be referred to the Project.

OSCR and Foundation Scotland will be looking at trusts in batches over the next year. If you believe your trust matches one of the Project criteria but you have not been contacted, it is possible that it has not yet been looked at and will be considered at a later date. If you would like us to bring forward your inclusion in the Project to an earlier date please let us know and we will do our best to help you.

Possibly yes. OSCR and Foundation Scotland are prioritising trusts that are dormant or carrying on very little activity but we may still be able to offer support if your trust is more active but looking for ways of being even better. You can contact us at the details provided below and explain what the circumstances of your trust are and what help you are seeking.

If your trust is struggling to distribute its funds and provide public benefit, there could be many different reasons for this. Our experience tells us that the most common reasons are:

  • difficulty with finding new or replacement trustees.
  • not having enough time to run the charity
  • difficulty with identifying enough beneficiaries
  • having charitable purposes that are out of date or too restrictive
  • not having sufficient income to meet the overheads of running the trust or to provide grants that would make any meaningful difference
  • problems with a trust deed that make administration of the trust inefficient

If any of the above apply to your trust, or if there is some other obstacle that is preventing you from running the trust as effectively as you would like, Foundation Scotland can explore options for a solution with you. Revitalising could include:

  • making changes to the trust deed to make it easier to operate
  • making changes to your charitable purposes
  • getting help to find beneficiaries
  • getting help to find new trustees
  • spending your remaining funds and winding up the trust
  • combining your funds with other small trusts or looking at other ways of improving your income
  • transferring your assets to another charity or to Foundation Scotland to be distributed via its extensive network of community projects and programmes throughout Scotland.

Each trust making contact with the Project will be supported on an individual basis according to its own circumstances. The Project Advisor will not take over the running of your trust but will work with the trustees to look at options for improvement and to help you choose the best approach.

The Project Advisor will agree an action plan with the trustees. Depending upon what needs to be done, the Project Advisor may take on some of the tasks herself or may link you to others who can help, including colleagues within Foundation Scotland or other organisations in your area such as your local Third Sector Interface (TSI).

Some of the proposed actions may require a formal decision to be taken by OSCR, such as consent to amend charitable purposes or approval of a reorganisation scheme. Where necessary, the Project Advisor can help you make the application to OSCR.

Yes absolutely! The whole point of the Project is to support you to improve things, not to take over the trust and run it for you. The final choice on an appropriate way forward will remain with the charity trustees and you will always have the right to get professional advice or a second opinion from other sources such as a lawyer, accountant or investment manager if you wish. In fact this may be recommended by the Project Advisor if you plan changes requiring specialist technical knowledge.

Whatever improvement plan the trustees agree is subject only to the following conditions:

  • OSCR must be satisfied that it is genuine and serious and will address the problems you have identified
  • Some actions may require a formal decision or consent to be made by OSCR

You should also bear in mind that where a problem has been identified it is not an option to ignore it or sit back and do nothing. OSCR has a duty to ensure that only charities providing public benefit remain on the charity Register.

If your plan includes seeking management of your funds by Foundation Scotland, they can also ensure that you have control over where and how your funds will be distributed. For more information on how Foundation Scotland can help you manage your funds, please click here https://www.foundationscotland.org.uk/set-up-fund/fund-management-for-communities

If you don’t respond to the initial letter within four weeks of receiving it, OSCR will refer your trust to Foundation Scotland. The Project Advisor will follow up with an email or a phone call to the named principal contact.

If you do not reply to subsequent attempts to contact you, Foundation Scotland will let OSCR know. OSCR may decide to use its powers to make further inquiries.

There is no charge for the support you receive from Foundation Scotland through the Project and there is no charge for any formal decisions made by OSCR. However, if you decide that it is appropriate for you to use a professional advisor, there may be a cost for their services. The Project Advisor will identify this for you and can help you find a suitable professional advisor if one is not already known to you.

Foundation Scotland and OSCR will be happy to talk to any trust no matter what stage you are at or if you simply want to have a chat about the Project:

The Project lead at OSCR is Steve Kent, Policy Manager at steve.kent@oscr.org.uk

The Project Advisor at Foundation Scotland is Steff Bell at stephanie@foundationscotland.org.uk or 0131 524 0340

At present, the Project is in the early stages of identifying and making contact with inactive trusts; this process will take some time.

Once identified, Foundation Scotland will be working closely with the trustees to support their route out of inactivity, the outcome of which will be entirely driven by the trustees themselves. The outcome for revitalisation could result in trusts winding up and transferring their assets, or accessing support for more effective grant making, or seeking Foundation Scotland’s help to manage their giving.  As you can appreciate, determining the best outcome for each individual trust will take time and will rest with the trustees themselves, not with OSCR or Foundation Scotland.

We will be working with a reference group involving external representatives to oversee the Project. As the Project progresses, updates will be available on this website page and Foundation Scotland’s website. Once revitalised, should any trusts offer new funding opportunities, Foundation Scotland will share this in their monthly newsletters and social media channels. You can subscribe to receive their newsletters here and view the Project page here.

Enquiries from the media or other sources should be addressed to:

For OSCR

For Foundation Scotland