The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has ordered a Guernsey-registered charity to stop breaking the law by misrepresenting itself as a Scottish charity, although the charity says it has never done so and might appeal the decision.
The OSCR published a report on the Highland Titles Charitable Trust for Scotland last week. Douglas Wilson, a trustee of the charity, told Third Sector it was not contacted by the OSCR before publication of the report, which he said contained "several glaring errors".
The report says the regulator received a complaint in December 2012 "alleging that a body known as Highland Titles Ltd was misrepresenting itself as a Scottish charity".
Highland Titles offers the title of Lady, Laird or Lord to people who buy small plots of land in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands, starting from a one-square-foot plot for £29.99. The charity is registered with Guernsey’s Registrar of Non Profit Organisations, at the same address as Highland Titles on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
According to its website, the charitable trust exists to care for and encourage the sustainable and responsible use of Scotland’s natural heritage.
The report says: "In our view, the words ‘charitable trust for Scotland’ are synonymous with the term ‘Scottish charity’ and, when used in the context of soliciting funds, are likely to undermine public confidence in the charity sector".
The report says the OSCR told Peter Bevis, the co-founder of Highland Titles, that the charity was illegally misrepresenting itself and that the charity has since stopped doing so. However, its website still includes "charitable trust for Scotland" as part of its name.
Douglas Wilson, a trustee of the charity, said: "We have never represented ourselves as a Scottish charity and we strenuously deny any claims to the contrary. This claim made by the OSCR is just one of several glaring errors contained within its report. We most certainly have never solicited funds in any jurisdiction."
He said the entire issue "could have been avoided had the OSCR attempted to enter into some form of dialogue with us before publishing its findings. Regretfully, it chose not to."
Wilson said the charity's name reflected the fact that its could work only in Scotland. He said that the charity had taken and followed legal advice on its name when it was adopted, was "confident of our legal position in this respect" and had not received any complaints about its name.
The regulator issued its order on 3 April 2014, instructing the charity to stop representing itself as one that was registered in Scotland. Any person disobeying such an order can face a fine of up to £5,000 or up to six months in prison.
Douglas said the charity was "seeking legal advice with regards to any possible appeal" and that it would consider changing the name of the charity "if there is evidence that it is misleading rather than descriptive".
Last week, Guernsey’s registrar launched two consultations on its regulation work. The first consults on proposals to widen its regulatory powers and amend the law to provide greater clarity regarding criminal penalties for non-compliance. The second asks whether manumitted organisations – a specific type of not-for-profit organisation run under licence from the Guernsey Financial Services Commission – should register alongside other charities and not-for-profits. The deadline for responses to both is 2 May.