OSCR has announced plans which will radically change how charities details are reported and maintained. A new service, OSCR Online, will allow charities to update their details and file documents online. OSCR hopes its introduction will greatly improve the administration of the charity register – for both the regulator and charities. The three main features of the new system are:-

  • the OSCR Online system itself;
  • an amended reporting and monitoring programme; and
  • an enhanced charity register.

OSCR Online

The new online system will allow charities to file both their annual return and annual accounts online rather than by submitting paper forms. This is intended to make it easier for charities to comply with the reporting requirements and to encourage compliance. Charities will also be able to update some of the information which OSCR holds about them. This means charities can keep their entry on the charity register up to date and, consequently it should also reduce some of the administrative burden for OSCR.

Although the plans were originally announced back in 2009 and development of the software commenced in March this year, OSCR has yet to announce a launch date for OSCR Online. They say they are unwilling to do so till they are certain the software works. Nevertheless with pilot sessions and testing currently underway, it seems likely the new system will be in place sooner rather than later, with early to mid 2012 looking likely.

In preparation for the changes all charities should check their current entry on the charity register and in particular should ensure that their principal contact’s details are up to date. When the system is ready to be used, the principal contact of every charity will be supplied with the necessary log-in details which will allow them to update their charity’s details online so it will be important for each charity that OSCR has the right contact details. Having carried out research, OSCR accepts that not all charity trustees are computer and internet savvy so, when the system goes live, using OSCR Online will be optional, and not mandatory, so charities will still be able to file paper returns.

Reporting and Monitoring

As well as simplifying the way charities can report to OSCR, the regulator is also keen to minimise the reporting burden. The annual return required to be submitted will be reduced from 5 pages to 2 pages. Information which OSCR already holds on record - such as the purposes, beneficiaries, geographical spread and operating location of the charity - will no longer included in the annual return. Instead, if there have been any changes since the charity was added to the register then a charity will be able to notify these changes itself using the online service.

While these changes should make things easier for charities, perhaps less welcome will be plans to increase monitoring requirements. OSCR is keen to implement further monitoring tools to help them keep track of charities’ compliance with the various requirements in the legislation. As a result, once OSCR Online is up and running, along with their annual return all charities will be required to provide:-

  • figures showing income and expenditure;
  • the number of paid employees; and
  • the number of trustees.

Currently only larger charities, those with gross incomes over £25,000, are required to provide this information.

Enhanced Register

OSCR hopes to create an enhanced charity register which will make it easier to report changes to OSCR should mean the register provides a more accurate and up to date record of Scotland’s charities.

At the same time, OSCR plans to expand the information currently available to the public on the charity register. This will include displaying financial highlights for every charity, although it is not yet clear what sort of financial data this will involve, as well as making it clearer when charities have failed to meet the deadline for filing information or documents. The perception is that, with more information available to the public on the register, the volume of information requests directed at individual charities will be reduced.

OSCR envisages that the new system will make life easier for Scottish charities by both simplifying and speeding up the reporting process. However, only once OSCR Online goes live will we see to what extent this expectation is realised and whether charities are happy to change the way they report to the regulator.

Are you ready?

Some simple steps to take to ensure your charity is ready for the change are:-

  • check your register entry is up to date;
  • check your principal contact details are up to date; and
  • consider who in your organisation should be tasked with updating your charity’s register entry, and submitting documents on-line, once the new system goes live.

Further information can be found on the OSCR website http://www.oscr.org.uk/ .