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Glossary of Terms

Published: 20/08/2015
Updated: 17/07/2019

This glossary provides you with further information, definitions and descriptions of some key terms. Where appropriate it links to the relevant sections of law that underpin the terms.  



2005 Act

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005: the primary piece of charity law in Scotland.


Accounts represent the organisations finances for a particular period (usually a year). They show how much money was received and how much was spent, broken down into different categories. Charities must prepare accounts each year and must send a copy of to us (the Scottish Charity Regulator) each year.

For more information see Charity Accounting.

Online Annual return

The online form charities complete each year to provide us with information about the charity (in particular for the Scottish Charity Register, and including information about the charity’s finances).

This can be completed in OSCR online.


This means everything a charity owns; property, money, equipment, including heritable property (such as land and buildings and rights attached to it).


These are the people your charity is set up to help, those who benefit from what you do.

Care and diligence

This means a very high level of care and thoroughness. 

This is set out in Section 66 of the 2005 Act.

Charitable Purposes

A charity’s purposes are usually set out in the objects, aims or purposes section of its governing document. The purposes say what your organisation has been set up to achieve, and should reflect its broad aims rather than the day-to-day activities. Each purpose your charity has must fit within at least one of the 16 charitable purposes set out in section 7(2) of the 2005 Act, that is: 

(a) the prevention or relief of poverty,

(b) the advancement of education,

(c) the advancement of religion,

(d) the advancement of health,

(e) the saving of lives,

(f) the advancement of citizenship or community development,

(g) the advancement of the arts, heritage, culture or science,

(h) the advancement of public participation in sport,

(i) the provision of recreational facilities, or the organisation of recreational activities, with the object of improving the conditions of life for the persons for whom the facilities or activities are primarily intended,

(j) the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation,

(k) the promotion of religious or racial harmony,

(l) the promotion of equality and diversity,

(m) the advancement of environmental protection or improvement,

(n) the relief of those in need by reason of age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage,

(o) the advancement of animal welfare,

(p) any other purpose that may reasonably be regarded as analogous to any of the preceding purposes.


An organisation is a charity in Scotland when it is entered on the Scottish Charity Register.

Charity Test

This is the test set out under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which determines whether an organisation can be a charity.

The charity test has two main elements:

  1. an organisation has to show that it has only charitable purposes and
  2. that it provides public benefit in achieving those purposes.

This is set out in sections 7 and 8 of the 2005 Act.

Charity Trustee

‘Charity trustees’ are defined in section 106 of the 2005 Act as people having the general control and management of the administration of a charity. Charity trustees can also sometimes be known as committee members, directors or board members.

Collective responsibility

Charity trustees are not only responsible for their own actions, they are also responsible for the actions and decisions taken by the charity trustees when acting together.

Connected person

The term connected person includes:

  • spouses, civil partners and cohabitees of a charity trustee
  • child, stepchild, parent, grandchild, grandparent, brother or sister of a charity trustee (and a spouse of any such person)
  • an institution controlled by a charity trustee or a person connected with them or two or more trustees/connected persons when taken together
  • a body corporate or company in which the charity trustee or a person connected with them has a substantial interest, or
  • a Scottish partnership (business) in which the charity trustee or, a person connected with them is a partner.

Conflict of interest (policy)

A conflict of interest may arise in a situation where a charity trustee may obtain personal benefit from a particular decision in relation to the charity.  A policy setting out what a conflict of interest is and how you will manage situations where a conflict arises is strongly recommended. See the Conflict of interest sources of help, advice and best practice section for links to example policies.


Section 16 of the 2005 Act says that you must seek OSCR’s consent before making any of the changes listed below. You need to ask for our consent at least 6 weeks (42 days) before you plan to implement the proposed change.

Changes that need our consent are:

  • changing the name of the charity
  • winding up the charity
  • amending the objects or purposes of the charity
  • amalgamating the charity with another body
  • changing the charity's legal form
  • applying to the court to change purposes, amalgamate or wind-up.

For more information, see Making Changes to Your Charity.


This is the opposite of benefit and is equivalent to detriment or harm.

This is set out in section 8 (2) (ii) of the 2005 Act.

Endowment funds

An endowment is a fund consisting of property, including cash which is held for the benefit of the charity. The objective is to provide the charity with an income from the fund. There are two forms of endowment fund:

» a permanent endowment fund is one that consists of property (which may be heritable or moveable) that has been gifted to the charity with specific conditions attached and where the capital cannot be spent in any circumstances.

» an expendable endowment fund is one that consists of property (which may be heritable or moveable) that has been gifted to the charity with specific conditions attached and which cannot be spent except in those circumstances specified in the terms of the endowment document. Normally, the governing document of the charity or the directions of the donor of the endowment will specify how the income from the endowment can be used and therefore whether the income should be included in the accounts as restricted or unrestricted.

External scrutiny report

Your charity's accounts must be externally scrutinised. That is, someone who is independent of your charity must review the accounts and produce a report, attached to the accounts, that highlights any issues to the reader.

Financial year end date

The financial year end date is the date that your charity’s financial year ends and to which accounts are prepared.

Governing Document

A governing document (or constitution) is the document (or set of documents) that sets up an organisation and says what its purposes are. It will usually deal with other matters, including who will manage and control the organisation, what its powers are, what it can do with the organisation's money and other assets, and membership of the organisation. For more information, see our FAQs.

This is defined in section 106 of the 2005 Act.

Legal Form


Charities can take a number of legal forms. The legal form is the structure or entity, which then becomes a charity. For example:

  • Unincorporated associations
  • Companies
  • Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations (SCIO)
  • Trusts
  • Community Benefit Society
  • Statutory corporation established by an Act of Parliament or Royal Charter
  • Educational endowment
Our Legal Forms Factsheet has more information on the most common legal forms for Scottish charities.

Ministerial direction or control

This is where a governing document gives Scottish or UK Ministers the power to direct or otherwise control an organisation’s activities.

This is set out in section 7 (4) (b) of the 2005 Act.


Misconduct (which includes mismanagement) means any action by charity trustees which may result in a significant loss or harm to the charity (and this includes failing to act). It arises where the general duties are not met and/or where charity trustees fail to comply with any direction, requirement, notice or duty imposed under the 2005 Act (section 66(2) of the 2005 Act). 

Principal contact

The person who will act as the main point of contact for the charity. 

This can be updated in OSCR online.

Private Benefit

This is where benefit from the charities activities is provided to members of the organisation or other individuals not as a member of the public.

This is set out in Section 8 (2) (a) (i) of the 2005 Act.


By 'property' we mean all property and assets (money and other assets) belonging to a charity, including heritable property (such as land and buildings and rights attached to it).

Protect the interests of the charity

Trustees should put the interests of their charity before their own interests, or those of any other person or organisation. They must actively work towards the achievement of the charity’s purposes. 

This is set out in Section 66 of the 2005 Act.


Someone who is authorised to act as a substitute for another.

Public Benefit

This is the way a charity makes a positive difference to the public through the activities it carries out when advancing its charitable purposes.

This is set out in Section 8 of the 2005 Act.


The minimum number of people necessary to make decisions and conduct the charity’s business. A quorum can refer to:

  • the number of charity trustees required for board meetings, or
  • the number of the charity’s members required for membership meetings, for example Annual General Meetings (AGMs).

This number is often set out in the charity’s governing document.

Register of interests

A record of the personal, business and financial interests of a charity trustee that may potentially lead to a conflict of interest.


Remuneration in the 2005 Act means any payment or benefit in kind. Sections 67 and 68 of the 2005 Act state that a charity trustee must not be remunerated for services provided to the charity (including services provided in the capacity as a charity trustee or under a contract of employment) from a charity’s funds unless certain conditions are met.

For more information, see Trustee Remuneration guide.

Representation as a Charity

By representation we mean any public reference to the organisation being a charity, made by the organisation itself or by a person acting on behalf of the organisation. The representation may be either written or verbal. It could be made to either an individual, a group of individuals or to an external organisation. A letter to another organisation (for example a funding application or a request for rates relief) in which the organisation makes reference to being a charity would be considered to be representing itself as a charity. An internal reference, for example in a letter sent only to the members of the organisation, lacks a public element and would not be treated as being a representation. The representation need not be made in Scotland.


General reserves are funds held by a charity that are freely available to spend on any of the charity’s purposes. This would exclude endowment and restricted funds and tangible fixed assets.

Restricted funds

Restricted funds are funds that can only be used for the particular purposes specified by the donor. For example, if a local authority provides a grant to a local charity to refurbish the community hall, the grant is a restricted fund that can only be used for the purpose for which it was given, in this case refurbishing the hall. Another example would be if a charity carries out an appeal for a particular purpose (for example to purchase a minibus). The money raised by the appeal would be a restricted fund and should only be used for the purpose of the appeal. Income from assets held in a restricted fund (for example interest) will be subject to the same restriction as the original fund unless the terms of the original restriction say otherwise.


The Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation is a legal form unique to Scottish charities and is able to enter into contracts, employ staff, incur debts, own property, sue and be sued.

For more information see SCIO guidance.

Scottish Charity number

This is the unique number given to all Scottish charities, beginning with SC0 (zero) followed by five numbers.

Scottish Charity Register

This means the register of all Scottish charities kept by OSCR.

For more information, see the Scottish Charity Register.

Scottish Charity Regulator

The independent regulator and registrar for over 23,500 Scottish charities, established by the 2005 Act.

For more information, see About OSCR.

Trustees Annual Report

The Trustees Annual Report is a part of the annual Accounts and contains information about the charity and its activities and achievements in that year.

For more information, see Trustees' Annual Reports: Good practice and guidance.

Undue Restriction

This is a restriction on who can access the benefit provided by a charity: it will be undue if excessive or unnecessary. It includes fees and charges.

This is set out in Section 8 (2) (b) of the 2005 Act.

Unrestricted funds

Unrestricted funds are funds that the charity trustees are able to use for any of the charity’s purposes. Donations that are not given for a specific purpose would be an unrestricted fund (for example membership fees). Income from these funds is also unrestricted and can be used for any of the charity’s purposes at the discretion of the charity trustees. Charity trustees may decide to earmark part of a charity’s unrestricted funds for a particular purpose, for example major repair works. These sums are designated for that purpose and should be accounted for as part of the charity’s unrestricted funds.

Wind up

To wind up or dissolve a charity means that the charity ceases to exist. Before winding up a charity must get OSCR’s consent.

This is set out in Section 16 of the 2005 Act. For more information, see Making Changes to Your Charity.