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
type of activity
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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:
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).
Your governing document expressly permits government Ministers to control the charity’s activities. This applies to both Scottish and UK Ministers.
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.
A charity's governing document is the written statement that sets out its purposes, structures 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:
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:
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).
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, 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).
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).
If you need help using our online 'Application to be a charity' system, this guidance takes you through the pre-application information required and shows you how to navigate the online system.
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.
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.
In addition to the changes that require OSCR’s permission, you 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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
receipts and payments accounts (R&P) - a simpler format of accounts for charities utilising cash accounting
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
any third party, for example a funder, has asked for accrued accounts
Who can check your accounts depends on:
Our Guide to Charity Accounts explains what form of external scrutiny is required for your charity's accounts.
Yes accounts must be prepared on an annual basis to report the activity of the charity.
Yes you can. You can change the 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 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.
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.
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:
your local Third Sector Interface (TSI)
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.
There is information that you must to give to the public:
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.
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.
That's a matter for individual charities to decide.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
Under Scottish charity law, your charity can campaign if:
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:
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 you 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 who 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.
In short, regulated lobbying covers any oral, face to face communications about Scottish Government or Scottish parliamentary functions, with:
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.
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.
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.
They have been analysing Electoral law and the potential affects on the third sector: www.scvo.org.uk
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: