Law firm criticises Scots public benefit selection

Nathalie Thomas

The criteria for selecting the first groups of charities to face the new public benefit test in Scotland have been challenged by a specialist charity law firm in Edinburgh.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator is planning to prioritise 1,000 of the country's 21,500 charities, including 167 branches of the Royal British Legion, 19 universities and 53 independent schools - among them Fettes College, the Prime Minister's old school.

These have been selected because the OSCR considers that some risk or uncertainty could exist regarding their charitable status.

But law firm Turcan Connell has criticised the approach of selecting groups in which there is a perceived risk and accused the OSCR of having preconceived ideas about the type of charities it could strip of the tax breaks derived from being a registered charity.

"Any form of typecasting would not be consistent with the charity legislation," said Douglas Connell, joint senior partner at Turcan Connell. "It is difficult to see why museums and universities should be regarded as a priority for the OSCR."

But Jane Ryder, chief executive of the OSCR, denied any such preconceptions existed and encouraged organisations to respond to a consultation on the proposals before February 2007.

The test was introduced in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005. The OSCR plans to start testing existing charities for public benefit from June next year. New charities have been subjected to the test since April, when the OSCR assumed full regulatory powers. More than 140 charities have so far been approved.

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