OSCR’s gone Wilde! Interesting developments with the Scottish Charity Regulator

I’ve always been a fan of Oscar Wilde, the enigmatic poet, playwright, polemic and prisoner.  How can you not love his caustic wit and winsome charm:

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…

But my favourite Victorian writer is not the only Oscar causing a stir from time to time: OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, is finally considering publishing some charity accounts on its online Register of Charities.

Interestingly, there are some key differences between the English/Welsh and Scottish charity regulators.

In England and Wales, the Charity Commission only registers charities when they have a regular annual income of more than £5,000, before which they are unregistered charities, but charities nevertheless; whereas in Scotland, if you aren’t registered with OSCR you ain’t a charity full stop.

In England and Wales, the definition of a charity is contained in the Charities Act 2006; whereas in Scotland, the definition  of a charity is contained in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005; both quite riveting reads.

But a much more practical difference is that the Charity Commission does include a charity’s accounts on their site, while OSCR provides much less financial information on its register.

However, OSCR is now considering a consultation with the sector about publishing some charity accounts on its website. The reason given is the improving quality of Scottish charities’ accounts since 2006.

This is surely a good thing.

It is vital for the public trust in the third sector for charities to be as transparent, open and honest as possible, and to be seen as fully accountable for the sums they have received.

Checking how a charity has spent its money is a key part of this process.

And this is even more critical in light of the recent media furores about the extent of charity overheads, the level of charity’s chief executive pay and remuneration, and the salary paid to William Shawcross, the Charity Commission Chair.

So I would generally welcome this development.

The publication of charity accounts on OSCR’s website is needed. In an era of increasingly savvy donors, interested trusts and foundations, and attentive media, it is time for Scotland to follow best practice from England and Wales.

And as the great man so helpfully put it:

We are all in the gutter, but only some of us are looking up at the accounts…

To read more visit the OSCR website, or view a helpful Civil Society article.

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