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.

Currently you can use our OSCR Online 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.

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

Log in to OSCR Online here. The Username is your charity number beginning with SC0 (ZERO) followed by 5 numbers. You must then put in your password.

More information about logging in to OSCR Online can be found here.

If you forget your password, insert your charity number and click the reset password button. On the password reset screen, you'll be asked to put in your email address. This box is CASE SENSITIVE. After you do this an email is sent with a link that allows you to set a new password. This facility can only be used if it is the email address we hold on file.

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.

If you wish to update the principle contact for the charity, this can be done using OSCR Online.

This page tells you how to update principal contact details using OSCR Online.

It is only the principal contact details that you need to update using OSCR Online. All other trustee changes should be put in the charity’s Trustees’ Annual Report.

Please read our Using OSCR online to submit an online annual return' guidance. It 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.

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.

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.

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.

When choosing a name you should be careful that it is not 'objectionable' under charity law. Generally this means that is should not:

  • be the same as or too similar to an existing charity.

  • mislead the public about what your organisation is going to be doing.

  • give the impression that you are connected with another organisation (unless you are connected with them). 

  • 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.

Please also read our FAQs: SCIO’s on the Index of Company Names

Once you've read the guidance, decided upon your legal form , and made the decision to apply to become a charity 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.

Yes, our Guidance and good practice for charity trustees explains what the law says charity trustees must do or must not do.

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.

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.

No. Updates on charity trustee changes should be stated in the charities accounts. We do need to know when a Principal Contact changes and this should be updated in OSCR Online.

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.

This page tells you how to seek permission from OSCR for these changes.

However, there are also some other changes you need to tell us about, including when you change your principal contact. You can inform us of some of these changes using OSCR Online.

Read more about the other changes you need to tell us about.

In addition to the changes that require OSCR’s permissionyou must update OSCR Online 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 OSCR Online.

**You can do this by using OSCR Online.

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:

  • be the same as or too similar to an existing charity.

  • mislead the public about what your organisation is going to be doing.

  • give the impression that you are connected with another organisation (unless you are connected with them).

  • 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.


Changing the name of a SCIO

From 1 January 2018 Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations (SCIOs) and Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIOs) appear in the Registrar’s Index of Company Names, which is maintained by Companies House.

Please read FAQs: SCIO’s on the Index of Company Names. If you require permission from Companies House then you should send this to OSCR when submitting this application form .

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 about changing purposes.

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 about more about winding up or dissolving your charity.

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. However we may continue to request an online annual return and accounts from the organisation to ensure your any remaining assets are used for charitable purposes.

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.

Charities need to complete an online annual return 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).

In addition to an online annual return, charities need to provide us with:

An online annual return is  completed using OSCR online.

More information is available on the Annual Monitoring page.

The  online annual return is submitted to us using OSCR Online.

You have 9 months from your financial year end date to complete and send us the online annual return and the other information your charity should provide us with.

The deadline date is also on OSCR Online after you have logged in.

Once the deadline date has passed, you are late in providing the information and a red line will appear on your Scottish Charity Register entry to highlight this as well as stating the number of days it is late. The red line will stay on your register entry until you have completed your return and we have checked this. .

Our aim is to achieve compliance, so reminder emails are sent until   6 weeks after your deadline date. If your information is not sent to us within 10 weeks of the deadline date the charity will be shown as defaulting on the Scottish Charity Register. We actively pursue defaulting charities using our powers under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.

Our aim is to achieve compliance but we will take action where appropriate and proportionate. Ultimately charity status can be removed.

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

Who can check your accounts depends on your charity's governing document, gross income and net assets and whether or not your charity is also a company.

To understand what form of external scrutiny is required for your charity's accounts, refer to section 3 and figure 2 within our accounts guidance.

More information about charity accounting can be found here.

Yes accounts must be prepared on an annual basis to report the activity of the charity.

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.

 You can change the accounting reference date using OSCR Online.

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 year’s 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. The same restraint applies if you are changing from receipts and payments to fully accrued accounting.

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.

More information about charity accounting can be found here.

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.

The SCIO page on our website has more information.

The question of whether your charity is a single tier or two tier structure is only relevant to the SCIO legal form. Your SCIO constitution will say whether you are a single tier or two tier SCIO.

A single tier means the SCIO is governed by charity trustees who are also the only members. 

A two tier structure means the SCIO has a separate body of members who elect the trustees to govern the charity. The membership and the charity trustees both have powers or duties.

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:

 Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) the national body representing the voluntary sector.

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  

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 allows anyone to receive a copy of a charity’s annual reports and accounts on request. In April 2016, OSCR started to publish the reports and accounts of all charities with an income of £25,000 or more and all SCIOs. The Regulator felt that publishing these reports and accounts would stimulate higher levels of transparency across the sector. The accounts of charities that are also companies can be found on the Companies House website.

Our current legislation does not make it possible for us to publish reports and accounts without redacting them first. This is because of data protection concerns. 

This is not the case for the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW) where the legislation is slightly different and allows publication without redaction.  We are in the process of producing recommendations as to how a change in legislation might allow us to publish more easily. However, any possible change will take some time.

The best way for a charity to share their reports and accounts through the register is by publishing their accounts on their own website and linking this to their entry on the register. Charities can then use this page to share other information about the charity's activities and impact.

To do this, charities can send us their link by emailing info@oscr.org.uk or provide the link when they complete their online annual return. Guidance on completing an online annual return can be found here.

If you are not searching using the charity number (beginning SC0 [zero]), try using less search terms. It may be that the charity has a slightly different name on the Register than the one you have. Remember, there are additional filter options on the Register search page, including the option to search for former charities.

We can’t, but we have produced a Charities and Trading Guide which sets out the things you should consider about trading.

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 its 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 charity reserves and charity investments: 

For all questions about gift aid please contact HMRC directly.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new, Europe-wide law that sets out requirements for how organisations will need to handle personal data from 25 May 2018.

We know that charities are getting ready for this and may have a number of questions. OSCR does not have any guidance on the requirements of GDPR and can't provide advice to charities, but here are some useful sources of information:

Generally the register should be available to anyone on request. 

However, where a request is made by someone who is not a trustee of the SCIO, you can redact the name and address, if the safety or security of any person or premises could be jeopardised by releasing the information. 

When collecting personal information you should always be clear with the individual about what information you will be holding and why. The SCIO has a legal duty to hold information about members and trustees and this should be made clear to the individuals before their information is collected.

Rather than giving information to potential members or trustees in a privacy statement (which is usually a public statement) you might want to give them an information pack about the charity which includes details of what the register(s) contain and SCIO duties.

Information from the register of members and the register of trustees must be kept for 6 years after the person ceased to be a member or trustee. The information that needs to be kept is the person’s name, the date they stopped being a member or trustee, and in the case of former trustees any office they held within the SCIO, such as chair or treasurer.

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: