This year marks the first decade of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and the charity sector looks a lot different now than it did 10 years ago. The tenth anniversary of OSCR’s role as regulator is a good opportunity to look back at some of OSCR’s achievements over the last decade.
The charity sector in Scotland was overhauled by the introduction of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, the first major piece of legislation regulating Scottish charities and charities operating in Scotland. The formal establishment of OSCR on 24th April 2006 was one of the key outcomes of the 2005 Act.
Keeper of the register
On its establishment, OSCR inherited the existing Charity Register from HMRC and began a long process of review to ensure that the charities listed on it were still active. OSCR began to remove inactive or ‘ceased’ charities from the Register and considered how best to ensure that those charities remaining on the Register met the new Scottish charity test. The Rolling Review process which was started managed to tackle key areas where there were perceived risks to charitable status, but with around 24,000 charities to regulate, the possibility of reviewing every individual charity would have been impossible for OSCR.
In order to give more impact to the review of charities beyond the initial Rolling Review phases, OSCR absorbed the principles behind Rolling Review into its new strategy for regulation, known as ‘Targeted Regulation’. Under the Targeted Regulation framework, OSCR will deal with two main issues: (i) protection of charitable assets and beneficiaries, and (ii) protection/integrity of charitable status. In the future, OSCR will manage and prioritise its resources by focusing on key issues of concern to the charity sector and the public at any given time.
Improvements for charities
Over the last 10 years, OSCR has made a number of technological improvements to help charities in Scotland meet their regulatory requirements. Part of these developments has been designed to move away from OSCR being a paper-based organisation. The introduction of OSCR Online in 2012 has made the lodging of accounts and annual returns considerably easier for the vast majority of charities: by May 2016, approximately 90% of charities had registered for online reporting and filing.
From April 2016, OSCR has begun to publish accounts received via OSCR Online on the Scottish Charity Register (via the OSCR website) for easier access by the public. This brings OSCR more closely in line with practice at the Charity Commission for England and Wales and at Companies House. The publication of accounts online helps to increase transparency within the sector and assists charities in meeting their statutory obligation to the general public to provide copies of accounts on request.
Revisions to the Annual Return form, the introduction of a ‘Notifiable Events’ scheme, and the publication of refreshed and revised guidance for charities and trustees, have been additional achievements for OSCR in the last year alone.
A potential further development currently in the pipeline is the possibility of OSCR having an enhanced role in the regulation of fundraising in Scotland. The outcome of a major consultation on the options for the regulation of fundraising in Scotland is awaited, with the preferred option looking like an enhanced form of self-regulation focused on charities themselves in Scotland, but with some additional input from OSCR where necessary.
The regulatory scene for Scottish charities has certainly not stood still over the last 10 years and OSCR’s valuable contribution to the third sector’s development will undoubtedly continue well into the next decade.