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Frequently Asked Questions

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

Below you will find answers to our frequently asked questions on Becoming a Charity. Click on each question to find the answer.

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.

You can find more information in our Being a Charity in Scotland guidance.

The charity test is the legal set of requirements that an organisation must pass to become a charity and be entered in the Scottish Charity Register. The charity test is in two main parts:

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

Public benefit is what your organisation must provide to satisfy the charity test, we will need to be satisfied that your organisation will make a positive difference for the public.

The charity test also states that an organisation cannot become a charity, or continue to be one, if:

  • it is set up to be or advance a political party
  • its governing document allows it to use its assets (cash or property) for non charitable purposes
  • its governing document allows Scottish Ministers to direct or control its activities

Find out more about the charity test.

The purposes set out in your governing document say what your organisation has been set up to achieve, and should reflect its broad aims. They should not be a description of the day-to-day activities that your organisation will do. To meet the first part of the charity test we should be able to easily see which of the 16 charitable purposes in Scottish charity law your organisation is trying to achieve.

A governing document (or constitution) is the document that sets up an organisation and says what its purposes are. It will usually deal with other matters, including who will manage and control the organisation, what their powers are, what they can do with the organisation's money and other assets, and membership of the organisation.

What your organisation's governing document is called and how it is put together will depend on what kind of organisation it is (what its legal form is). If it is a SCIO it will be called a constitution and must contain certain clauses. If it is a company the governing document is a memorandum and articles of association. If it is a trust governing document it will be a trust deed or similar document. If your organisation is an unincorporated association it may simply be called your constitution.

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 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. 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..

We aim to assess applications to become a charity within 90 days and 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.

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:

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

If you have concerns about a charity or an organisation representing itself as a charity, please contact us. We will normally expect you to have contacted the charity trustees first.

  • Online concern form
  • Email 
  • Post - Investigation Officers at OSCR, 2nd Floor, Quadrant House, 9 Riverside Drive, Dundee DD1 4NY
  • Phone: 01382 220446 and ask for the Compliance & Investigations team

See our Raise a concern about a Charity page for more information on what we can and can't look at.

To tell if the bag is from a registered Scottish charity look to see if it has the charity name and Scottish charity number on it. All Scottish Charity numbers begin SC0 followed by five numbers e.g. SC012345. You can find out if an organisation is a Scottish charity by searching the Scottish Charity Register.

Some charities are registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales, but not in Scotland, in which case they must state this on their bags. 

Sometimes charities use businesses to collect bags on their behalf; if they do this they must still put their charity details on the bag.

More information can be found in our leaflet on doorstep collections.  

Find out more information on our Fundraising page.