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Making progress on notifiable events

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We have now been regulating the Scottish charities sector for over 13 years.  Over that time, we’ve learnt that most charities do far more to build public trust and confidence in the charity sector than to undermine it.  An important part of our role is being preventative; looking to stop problems from happening, or minimising their impact where they do.  This has led us to develop a more focused approach to regulation, targeting our resources at the types of charities who are more likely to pose a risk to public trust and confidence. 

As part of this approach, we started our notifiable events regime in April 2016.  The aim of the regime is to make sure that trustees are acting in the best interests of their charity and dealing with potentially serious issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

In summary, when a notifiable event happens in a charity, we ask them to contact us to let us know about what has happened and tell us about any action the charity will take in light of the event. 

A notifiable event could be:

  • fraud and theft
  • significant financial loss
  • incidents of abuse or mistreatment of vulnerable beneficiaries
  • a lack of charity trustees required to make a legal decision
  • when a charity has been subject to a criminal investigation or an investigation by another regulator or agency; sanctions have been imposed, or concerns raised by another regulator or agency
  • when significant sums of money or other property have been donated to the charity from an unknown or unverified source
  • suspicions that the charity and/or its assets are being used to fund criminal activity (including terrorism)
  • charity trustees acting improperly or whilst disqualified.

We do not want to know about every event, only those that threaten to have a significant impact on the charity or its assets.  Reporting these significant events to OSCR is a positive step and charities should not be nervous about contacting us.  It gives us reassurance about the governance of the charity and allows us to identify the correct sources of guidance and support.  By working with us when these events occur, ultimately charities are contributing to improved trust and confidence in their work and the sector. 

Reporting a notifiable event is not in charity law.  We started the regime because we know that the public and funders expect charities to take appropriate action when problems occur and this is an opportunity to do so.  So, although there is no legal requirement, the reputational damage can be very high when charities do not engage with it.

Our website has clear guidance on notifiable events.  It sets out what to do when something happens and what to expect from us.  Getting in touch is as straightforward as sending us an email, and a member of our staff will respond quickly with any next steps.

Since the regime started, we have had 320 notifiable event reports from Scottish charities.  Of these, 24% have involved issues of financial loss and 22% Fraud and Theft.  In the vast majority of notifiable event cases, trustees have taken the appropriate steps and further action by OSCR has not been required.  However, in 27 cases overall (8%), the cases were referred to our Compliance and Investigation team, and dealt with under our Inquiry Policy.  In 19 of these cases, the team undertook further inquiries (6%). 

We are very pleased with the way in which charities are responding to the regime and reporting to us.  So if you are a charity trustee, and there is something tricky happening in your charity, please contact us.  Reporting to us will be seen as a positive act and a sign of good governance practices within your charity.