The Statement Of Recommended Practice, created seven years ago by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and shared with the Charities Commission in England and Wales, is a formidable weapon in the battle against rogue charities.
It can especially challenging for new and small charities, because the SORP itself is a long document and complying or even understanding all of its recommendations can be difficult for someone who is not an accountant or lawyer.
It has been revealed that the SORP will be updated next year, and many people in the charity sector are hoping that OSCR will greatly simplify it –"charities have moved on since 2005," as one charity trustee said this week.
There will be plenty of debate in the charities sector before and after the revision. Meanwhile, SORP has to be followed by charities, even those who now file their accounts online – a recent innovation by OSCR.
Gillian Donald is head of charities at accountancy firm Scott Moncrieff. She says:"OSCR has driven a level of professionalism in Scottish charities that maybe wasn't there before, and SORP has been a big part of that."
One of the main criticisms of SORP is the sheer complexity of it, and professionals working in the sector have a great deal of sympathy for lay people faced with the task of preparing SORP-compliant accounts.
Deputy Head of Charities, Gavin McEwan commented:"Some charity trustees find SORP-compliant accounts difficult to decipher. Whereas charity lawyers and accountants tend to be able to get their heads round these things, charity trustees can find it difficult. For very small charities who do not have access to professional support, it can feel quite a heavy burden indeed.
"Having said that, the system has settled down quite quickly and it helps that there is a fair amount of education available to charity trustees, so I think it is a case of constant education and training for charity trustees to get them into the whole swing of SORP.
"OSCR has produced some very good guidance on how to compile charity accounts, so if you are a lay person having to prepare the accounts, the OSCR guidance is very good at coaxing you through the process.
"OSCR's publications are very readable and useful, so although it might be a burden for someone who does not come from an accountancy or legal background, it should not be an impossible task."
Gavin hopes that SORP will become more user-friendly after the next revision, which is due in 2013.
He says:"I am hoping that with the next revision, some of it may become easier but I think we are going to be stuck with some of the terminology that we already have under SORP, terminology that you would not expect to see in a straightforward set of accounts.
"We are seeing the long-term evolution of SORP, and it is going the right way, albeit slowly," he adds.
Since September, OSCR has been independent of ministerial control and is now answerable directly to the Scottish Parliament, so MSPs will no doubt take considerable interest in how OSCR develops SORP.
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