FAQs for charities

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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).

Guidance and good practice for Charity Trustees

Charity trustees are defined in Scottish Charity Law as people in ‘general management and control’ of the charity. This means the trustees are the people legally responsible for all decisions and actions taken by the charity.

Charity trustees can also sometimes be known as committee members, directors or board members.

Everyone who is a trustee of your charity must be aware of their responsibilities and requirements under charity law. Even if your trustees have different roles within the charity, like Treasurer or Chairperson, they all have a shared responsibility under charity law.

There are specific duties that charity trustees must follow and general duties to act in the best interests of the charity. More information about charity trustee duties can be found here.

Everyone who is a trustee of your charity must be aware of their responsibilities and requirements under charity law. Even if your trustees have different roles within the charity, like Treasurer or Chairperson, they all have a shared responsibility under charity law.

There are specific duties that charity trustees must follow and general duties to act in the best interests of the charity. More information about charity trustee duties can be found here.

A SCIO must have at least three charity trustees as stated in the SCIO Regulations. For other legal forms, there is no legal number of charity trustees but it is good practice to have at least three.

There is information that you must to give to the public:

  1. You must state your charity’s name and Scottish charity number (SC0[zero]xxxxx) on your charity’s website home page and all external documents, like letters, emails, adverts, posters, invoices and other publications.

See the publicising that you are a charity section for more details.

  1. You must give a copy of your governing document and/or the latest examined or audited accounts to anyone that asks for them. The reason a person asks for a copy of these documents does not matter; provided it is a reasonable request, you must give them a copy.

Good practice is to publish your governing document and accounts on the charity’s website, if you have one.

If you get a request for any other information, such as minutes of a trustee meeting, you don't have to supply it unless your governing document says you must. However, you can provide other information if you want to.

Specific information about your charity must by law be shown on certain types of documents.

Information Required Type of document
The charity's legal name (on the Register) business letters and emails
Any other name by which the charity is commonly known (known as name) adverts, notices and official publications
The charity's Scottish Charity Number allocated, which begins SC0 invoices, receipts and letters of credit
  educational, fundraising or campaigning documentation
  accounts and contracts

If your charity does not have the word "charity" or "charitable" in its name you must also state on the documents that you are a charity.

See our guide to find out more information..

We can’t, but there are organisations which can. The main ones are the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and your local Third Sector Interface.

Charities which set up trading arms or subsidiaries do so because this allows them to carry out commercial activities which the charity can't do. It is also a way of protecting the charity and it's assets from the risks associated with trading.

As a charity trustee you have a duty to act in the best interests of your charity and the decision to set up a trading subsidiary should be taken after getting appropriate professional advice.

We can't provide specific advice on these matters. However, we do have guidance on Reserves which you can read here.

However, the Charity Commission for England and Wales have 
guidance on managing assets and resources which you might find useful.

You can apply for a waiver of disqualification as a charity trustee.

Legislation states that certain people are disqualified from acting as charity trustees:
  • someone with an unspent conviction for dishonesty or an offence under the 2005 Act
  • someone who is an undischarged bankrupt or has a Protected Trust Deed to pay off debts with creditors
  • someone who has been removed under either Scottish or English Law from being a charity trustee
  • someone who is disqualified from being a company director.

OSCR has the power to waive a disqualification if a person applies to us and meets the relevant criteria. This can be in relation to one particular charity or a type of charity. However, the person will remain disqualified unless / until we grant this waiver.

If your charity has new trustees or if a trustee leaves, you generally do not have to tell OSCR.

If a new trustee requires a waiver of disqualification before becoming a trustee however, you must contact us.

When a charity wants to change their principal contact, they must tell OSCR and can do this using their OSCR Online account.

Any trustee changes should be in the charity's Trustees' Annual Report.

You must update our online services or tell us within 3 months when:

  • your Principal Contact changes*
  • the contact details for the existing Principal Contact change*
  • you have changed your accounting year end date**
  • you change your governing document (unless the change is to the charitable purposes or the charity's name - this needs our approval first).
  • when any change consented to by OSCR is implemented.

Find out more on making changes to your charity.

*This should be changed straight away and can be done using our online services.

**You can do this by using our online services.

You must seek consent before making any of the changes listed below. You need to ask for our consent at least 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

You must apply to us and ask for our consent at least 42 days before you plan to change the name. When choosing a new name you should be careful that it is not 'objectionable' under charity law. Generally this means that it 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.

If we consent to the name change you will need to contact us again once the charity's name has been formally changed and give us any information we asked for when we gave consent.

See our name change guidance for more information.

You must apply to us and ask for our consent at least 42 days before you plan to change the charity's purposes.

You will need to send us a copy of your current governing document and a draft of the new purposes.

If we consent to the change to purposes you will need to contact us again once the purposes have been changed and give us any information we asked for when we gave consent.

Find out more information and application forms.

You must apply to us and ask for our consent at least 42 days before you plan to dissolve the charity. You must tell us what you plan to do with any assets the charity has left.

If we consent to the application you will need to contact us again once the charity has dissolved and give us any information we asked for when we gave our consent.

Find out more information and application forms.

If you want to continue your organisation's activity but don't want to be a charity any more, you can ask us to remove your organisation from the Scottish Charity Register and we will do this within 28 days.

If you are a SCIO this information does not apply. Please see our FAQs on SCIOs for further information.

Charity law requires us to monitor your assets after the date of removal, to make sure they are still used for charitable purposes. See our Former Charities Guidance for more information.

You do not need to tell us every time a charity trustee changes, unless they are also the charity's principal contact.

Any charity trustee changes should be included in your Trustees Annual Report.

SCIO stands for Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. A SCIO is a legal form available to Scottish charities. A SCIO is a corporate body that can enter into contracts, employ staff, incur debts, own property, sue and be sued.

It provides a high degree of protection against personal liability for its charity trustees and provides reassurance for those entering into contracts with it. Unlike charities that are limited companies, SCIOs have OSCR as a single regulator.

SCIOs were created by the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 as a new corporate legal form that would offer some protection to charity trustees from personal liability, but would not require them to have the same reporting and regulatory requirements as a company.

Unlike other forms of charities, the SCIO's existence depends on its charitable status. A SCIO does not exist until it is entered on the Scottish Charity register and if the SCIO is removed from the register it no longer exists. This is unlike other legal forms which can stop being a charity but still continue to operate as non-charities and it is an important point to consider before applying to become a SCIO.

The members of a SCIO have some of the same duties as charity trustees.

For further information read our guide on SCIOs.

Being a SCIO offers a degree of protection to charity trustees against personal liability which isn't found in unincorporated legal forms such as associations or trusts.

Companies limited by guarantee also offer this protection but charitable companies have extra requirements compared to a SCIO.

Companies that are also charities have to report to both Companies House and OSCR. Charitable companies must comply with company law as well as charity law. A company must prepare fully accrued accounts regardless of its size.

SCIOs are only regulated by OSCR and are subject to the same accounting thresholds as unincorporated charities.

There are some important differences in the duties and requirements of a SCIO compared to other charities. These include:

  • the qualifications, duties and powers of members;
  • the requirements for the SCIO to keep registers of its charity trustees and members and to provide copies of these registers;
  • the references to SCIO status in the charity's documents.

Our SCIO guidance sets out these requirements in detail.

You should think carefully about whether being a SCIO is right for your organisation. There are some important differences between being a SCIO and any other kind of charity in Scotland. Our Legal forms factsheet sets out the key differences and this should help you in deciding whether being a SCIO is right for your organisation.

We can't help you decide if it's the right option for you but there are advice and support organisations that can.

The main ones are:

In general no, you don’t need to tell us when you make amendments to these Registers. 

The Registers are kept by the SCIO to help its governance.  For example, they provide up to date members’ contact details for use when calling an AGM, and they give an accurate record of who was involved in the management and control of the SCIO at any given time.

However, if your SCIO applies to dissolve (either solvently or insolvently), you must provide us with a copy of the Register of Trustees.  This helps us to be satisfied that you have taken the decision to dissolve in line with proper procedures.

Our SCIO guidance sets out these requirements in more detail; including what you need to do if someone requests a copy of your Register of Trustees or your Register of Members.

This video provides answers to the most frequently asked SCIO questions.

You can find FAQs on Incorporation in A Guide to Incorporation  

Under Scottish charity law organisations which represent themselves as charities in Scotland need to register with us.


This includes bodies which are established and/or registered as charities in other legal jurisdictions, such as England and Wales. There are some exceptions. For English and Welsh charities, further details can be found at the English and Welsh Charities page on our website.

There are two types of charity accounts:

  1. receipts and payments accounts (R&P) - a simpler format of accounts for charities utilising cash accounting
  2. fully accrued accounts - more complex accounts

You will only have to prepare fully accrued accounts if one of the following applies:

  • the charity's gross income in the financial year is £250,000 or more
  • the charity is also a registered company
  • the charity's governing document says it should prepare accrued accounts
  • the charity's funders have asked for accrued accounts.

Yes you can.

  • A charity can change its financial year end to any date as long as the new period does not exceed 18 months.
  • There are restrictions to the number of changes a charity can make in a 5 year period.
  • A charity can only have 2 periods which exceed 12 months in any 5 years.

A charity can only have 2 periods which exceed 12 months in any 5 years.

The accounts must show information for the current and the previous year. When changing from an accruals to a receipts and payments basis the previous years figures must be restated to a receipts and payments basis. This means they must be recalculated and presented as though receipts and payments accounting has always been used.

Receipts and Payments Accounts (R&P) show all items which are received into and paid out of a charity's bank account(s). If the charity receives a loan this must be included as a receipt within the receipts and payments account for that year. When the loan is repaid this must be shown as a payment.

The outstanding balance on any loans should be recorded as a note in the statement of balances.

Receipts and Payments Accounts (R&P) show the transactions which pass through a charity's bank account. How an investment is recorded in the R&P will depend on whether the charity uses an investment broker or not.

Where a charity manages the investment directly via their own bank account then all the transactions going through the bank account will need to be reflected in the R&P accounts.

Where a charity uses a broker, the broker may buy and sell investments on the charity's behalf. Only the balancing figures would show in the charity's accounts as a receipt from or payment to the broker, because the investment transactions take place outside the charity's bank account.


For all questions about gift aid please contact HMRC directly.

Currently you can use our Online Services to:

  • fill out and submit your online Annual Return 
  • attach and submit your accounts

You can also update your:

  • Principal contact details
  • website address
  • beneficiary groups
  • type of activity
  • geographical spread

If you want to make any changes to the charity's legal name or purposes you must get OSCR's consent first.

96% of charities now use the Online Services to submit annual returns and accounts, or make changes to their details.

You fill out the Online Services registration form and we will email the username and password to you.

The username is always your charity number, beginning SC0 (zero).

Passwords are automatically generated by the online system. Once you log in you can change your password to something more memorable.

Yes. If you can't remember the password, go to the log in page, enter your username and click 'reset password'. You will be asked to enter your email address. Provided the email address matches up to the one we have on our system, you'll be sent an email straight away with a link where you can enter a new password.

If you're using a different email address to our system you'll need to contact us at info@oscr.org.uk and we will issue new log in details after we have updated the email address.

Yes, you can share it with whoever else in the charity needs it, or with your professional advisor/accountant.

Yes, our 'Using OSCR online to submit an annual return' guidance contains information on:

  •          Logging in to OSCR online
  •          The information you need to provide for every question
  •          How to upload required documentation.

If you can't scan and attach your accounts you can still fill out the online Annual Return then post us a hard copy of the accounts, and we'll attach them online for you.

The new contact person will need to email us at info@oscr.org.uk and we will issue new log in details after we have updated the email address.

Yes, the online services give you and other trustees control over your charity's information:

  • It can be accessed 24/7.
  • You can save your changes and return later to complete your submission.
  • The system makes sure that you can only submit correct and complete information - minimising failed forms and reducing hassle for your charity.
  • You or new trustees can see previous submissions.
  • Online charity accounts are stored in the database (for 5 years) and you can go back and look at your previous accounts.

The principal contact is the person we contact when we need to get in touch with your charity. This person can be a charity trustee, an employee or an accountant or legal adviser.

If any of the principal contact details change you need to update it as soon as possible in OSCR Online.

Where the address for the charity is a trustee's address, we have to publish this along with the name of the principal contact. Where the address held is the principal office address, we are only required to publish this address.

Charities and political campaigning FAQs - PDF version

Under Scottish charity law, your charity can campaign if:

  • it is advancing your charitable purposes
  • your governing document does not prevent the activity
  • you are not advancing a political party and,
  • you can show you are acting in the charity's best interests

Scottish charity law says that an organisation set up to be a political party or to advance a political party cannot become a charity.

Our position is that charities can campaign on political issues to advance their charitable purposes, including during electoral periods, as long as the requirements of charity law, and where necessary electoral law, are met.

Political campaigning - for example taking a position for or against a change in policy or legislation - is a legitimate way for many charities to achieve what they were set up for, their charitable purposes.

This means that Scottish charities can have purposes and carry out activities that seek to:

  • Influence government both central and local
  • Respond to, promote, oppose, or support legislation
  • Petition and otherwise seek to change public policy
  • Support a policy advocated by a political party (but not the party itself)

Charities can distribute information or engage in debate about the policies of political parties or candidates, where these activities are ways of achieving their charitable purposes.

While charities may choose to engage in political debate, trustees must make sure that this activity is in pursuit of the charitable purposes; and bear in mind the charity trustee duties to act in the best interests of the charity. This means that you must consider any potential reputational impact to the charity.

If you are campaigning with other charities, you will all need to make sure that the activities are consistent with each charity's purpose(s).

If you are campaigning with non-charities, you must make sure that they do not compromise your charity's independence by being associated with any political parties or politicians. You should think carefully about any campaigning with non-charities, how this might look to the public and how you can justify the activity as advancing your purposes.

Any activity a charity carries out should be in support of their charitable purposes and engaging with political parties and politicians is no different. The main point for charities to bear in mind is that they must be independent of party politics and should be seen to be independent as well. This applies to political parties and politicians anywhere in the world.

Engagement with political parties and politicians is a decision for the charity trustees, bearing in mind any potential reputational impact on the charity. Trustees should be aware of any conditions attached, for example being photographed for election leaflets or having election material displayed on the premises.

If you are organising hustings the general rule is to invite all the candidates unless there is a clear and objective reason not to. The Electoral Commission guidance sets out more points to consider if you are planning a hustings event.

Some charity trustees are also politicians and they should read our Who's in Charge - Control and Independence in Scottish Charities guidance.

Those engage in regulated lobbying use the Lobbying Register to provide information on who they have lobbied, when and where it happened and what the purpose of the lobbying was.

What constitutes regulated lobbying is set out in law and detailed in the guidance at www.lobbying.scot and www.parliament.scot.

In short regulated lobbying covers any oral, face to face communications about Scottish Government or Scottish parliamentary functions, with:

  • MSPs
  • Scottish Government Ministers o
  • the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary or
  • Special Advisers.

It also applies to any oral communications where you can hear and see the person, such as video conferencing. The term ‘oral’ includes communication made using British Sign Language (or otherwise made by signs).

There are a number of exemptions set out in the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. You should read the guidance at www.lobbying.scot and www.parliament.scot to decide if the requirements apply to your charity. 

In many cases, electoral law (1) will not apply to the activities of charities in Scotland, but sometimes it will. Electoral law applies to spending on regulated campaign activity (some aimed at the public) during the regulated period.

If your charity spends or plans to spend more than £10,000 on regulated campaign activity in Scotland (or £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in either Wales or Northern Ireland) during the regulated period, your charity must register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner. Your spending includes your staff costs.

A. Regulated campaign activity means: an activity will be regulated if it is one of the activities listed in the table below and it meets either the purpose test, or the purpose and public tests depending on the activity.

Purpose Test only Purpose and public tests

- press conferences or other media events that your charity organises

- transport in connection with publicising your charity's campaign

- the production or publication of election material (such as leaflets, adverts and websites)

- canvassing and market research (including the use of phone banks)

- public rallies and public events

Spending includes staff costs for these activities.

B. The purpose test means: it's reasonable to think that the activity is intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties or categories of candidates; including political parties or categories of candidates who support or do not support particular policies or issues.

C. The public test means: the activities are aimed at, seen, heard by or involves the public, or a section of the public. The public does not include members or committed supporters of charities.

D. The regulated period means: UK Parliamentary general elections usually have a regulated period of 365 days, ending on the day of the election. All other elections have a regulated period of four months, ending on the day of the election.

Your campaign activity to achieve something else, such as raising awareness of an issue, may meet the purpose test even if it does not name a particular party or candidate. For example, if you are campaigning on a policy that is closely and publicly associated with one or more political parties.

You should read the Electoral Commission guidance to find out if the rules apply to your charity.

(1) The rules under the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 started on 19 September 2014. This adds to the existing law the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000 ("PPERA").

If your charity spends (or plans to spend) over £10,000 in Scotland or £20,000 in England on regulated campaign activities then you will need to register with the Electoral Commission and follow their rules.

If your charity produces printed election material, such as leaflets and posters, which meet the purpose and public tests, you must include an imprint. The Electoral Commission recommends that you also put an imprint on electronic election material, such as websites and emails. See the Electoral Commission guidance on imprints for more information.

Yes. You always have to comply with charity law and if your activities fall under electoral law, you must comply with that too.

If someone raises a concern about your charity and campaigning on political issues we will look at it in line with our Inquiry policy.

The Electoral Commission has advice on their website about what happens if they receive a complaint about a breach of electoral laws.

The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 places a duty on the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland to investigate and report on admissible complaints into non-compliance. More information can be found at www.lobbying.scot and www.parliament.scot.  


  • From the Lobbying Register Team at the Scottish Parliament:

The Lobbying Register Team is responsible for maintaining the Register and producing guidance: www.lobbying.scot and www.parliament.scot.

  • From the Electoral Commission:

They have a range of guidance on electoral law and non-party campaigners, which includes charities. Every year, they publish specific guidance for elections happening that year: non-party campaigner's guidance page.

  • From the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO):

They have been analysing Electoral law and the potential affects on the third sector: www.scvo.org.uk 

  • From a charity law specialist:

If you plan to do a significant amount of campaigning in an election period then you might want to get independent legal advice: The Law Society of Scotland.

As Regulator, we can give you general guidance on the legal requirements of being a charity, but we can't give you specific advice about your individual charity or matters outside of Scottish Charity law.

However, information and guidance for charities is available from:

Current legislation requires us to redact personal and sensitive information before publishing charity accounts.
We are redacting all personal and sensitive information - names, addresses, signatures, phone numbers, email addresses and photographs, where people can be identified.
Yes, the term 'Annual Accounts' includes the accounts, the Trustees' Annual Report and the external scrutiny report.  These will all be published.
Whether your charity is selected for review will depend on a variety of factors, including the information you provide in your online Annual Return and your accounts.  You can find more information here.
The format for the accounts hasn't changed.  What's changed are the questions on online Annual Return.  Please submit your accounts in the current format.

Find out more about what's happening with fundraising in Scotland.