Charity law is changing. Click here to find out how the changes will affect your charity.

I’d like to make a complaint…..

Main Image

While the vast majority of Scotland’s twenty five thousand charities operate without incident year after year, part of our regulatory role involves looking into concerns that have been raised about charities on the register. 

How many complaints do we receive, and what do we do with these? 

Over the last couple of years we’ve received around ten concerns about charities in Scotland each week, with a total of 473 in 2020 and 432 from January to November in 2021.  These come from members of the public, charity trustees and volunteers and organisations and individuals working with charities.  We also identify issues ourselves from other information such as charity accounts and annual reports. 

What happens next?  

OSCR examines every concern it receives. The first step in this process is to “risk assess” each issue. In carrying this out, our team considers whether or not the issues relate to risks in our “risk framework”. Our current key risks are: 

  • Deliberate mismanagement of charities  
  • Criminal activity (including safeguarding issues)  
  • Charity trustee lack of knowledge 
  • Attempts to gain charitable status for private benefit  
  • Lack of clarity of the charity brand – bodies at the margins of charitable status and/or with complex or novel structures  
  • Charities that don’t provide public benefit 

Our experience is that the majority of issues which are raised with us as a concern do not fall within our regulatory remit. For example, charities are not responsible to us for the day to day decisions they make about their work, like which individuals are supported as beneficiaries by the charity. We’d advise people with concerns like these, that don’t fall under our key risks, to take these matters up with the charity’s trustees directly. We also receive concerns about organisations that are not charities and not claiming to be and OSCR has no role in such cases.   In other cases another regulator may be better able to take action and we pass the concern on to them.  Concerns which do not take forward for these reasons account for around two thirds of the complaints made to us in each year.  

Once we’ve determined that this is an issue for us, we then look at the evidence available, and the level of threat to the charity, its assets or the people who benefit from it. 

This assessment helps us to decide what we do next.  

So what action does OSCR take? 

Our experience has shown us that in the majority of cases the best way to deal with issues we have found is not through a regulatory action, but by finding ways of working with the charity or supporting it in other ways in order to help them deal with the issues themselves. For example, we can signpost charities to relevant guidance or support, or we could make recommendations to charities about actions they could take. We may also flag up a charity for future review or action, where we might actively monitor their finances or other aspects of their activities. In 2021, we have taken this approach with the vast majority of cases 107 cases reported to us where we have decided there is an issue for us to deal with.  

However, we still take regulatory action where and when we identify a need to do so.  

We opened an inquiry file on 55 charities in 2020, and 50 in 2021 (up to 1st November 2021).  

Formal action open to us include temporary protective measures such as directing charity trustees no to take certain actions or suspending charity trustees.  We can also apply to the Court of Session for it to use its powers to stop a charity from operating, or to prevent an individual from acting as a charity trustee. 

In some inquiry cases, where we use our formal powers, or where there is a high level of public interest, we will publish an inquiry report on our website explaining what has happened and any action we have taken. 

All of our inquiry reports are available on our website.