Law Society of Scotland urges review of law that established Scottish regulator

It says the needs of the charity sector have changed since the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator was established 10 years ago

Scotland: OSCR set up 10 years ago
Scotland: OSCR set up 10 years ago

The Law Society of Scotland has called for a review of the Scottish law that established the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator 10 years ago.

The review, which would examine how the needs of the charity sector have changed over the past decade and how OSCR could meet those needs, was proposed in a document published by the Law Society of Scotland yesterday, setting out its priorities for this year’s Scottish parliament elections

OSCR was set up in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which outlined its functions as determining whether bodies are charities and keeping a public register of them, identifying and investigating apparent misconduct in the administration of charities and advising ministers on charity issues.

The Law Society of Scotland document says: "When drafting legislation of this kind, it is impossible to predict exactly what the role of a new organisation will be, as it will have to adapt to fit the requirements of the sector in which it operates.

"OSCR has worked well in the past 10 years, but there have been significant changes to the sector in that time, which has presented challenges."

It says there have been numerous calls for a review from within the sector.

"We believe the time is right for charities law to be reviewed, including the application of the charity test and the ability of certain groups to earn charitable status."

David Robb, chief executive of the OSCR, which has been among those previously to have called for a review, welcomed the move and said it would be timely.

"Much has changed in the third sector and we hope that in the coming parliament ministers will make time available so that we can ensure the legislation remains appropriate and fit for purpose in light of our experience," he said.

"From time to time, we, and others, have called for additional powers to further reinforce public confidence in the sector and to safeguard charitable assets."

John Downie, director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it was high time for the act to be reviewed.

"Overall, it has been a useful piece of legislation, but there are areas for improvement, especially around the charity test, which is too broad and can allow organisations, such as some fee-paying schools and arm’s-length external organisations, to become charities without demonstrating a sufficiently high level of public benefit or independence from government," he said.

"We’d like to see the bar set much higher for the ‘undue benefit’ part of the charity test, which assesses charges and fees and whether they restrict access to benefit."

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