Charities in Scotland: trustees' responsibilities

Being a Scottish charity trustee brings responsibilities. At Northams, we can provide guidance on the reporting requirements in the Devon area.

It is often considered an honour to act as a trustee for a charity and an opportunity to give something back to the community. However, becoming a trustee involves a certain commitment and level of responsibility which should not be underestimated.

Whether you are already a trustee for a charity, be it a local project or a household name, or are thinking of becoming involved, there are a number of responsibilities that being a trustee places upon you.

We outline the main responsibilities below, with a particular emphasis on accounting and audit requirements for Scottish charities.


The charities sector in Scotland is generally overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) also known as the 'Scottish Charity Regulator'. OSCR is a Non-Ministerial Government department which is the independent regulator and registrar for Scottish charities.

OSCR plays an important role in the charity sector and is in place to give the public confidence in the integrity of charities and to help charity trustees to understand and comply with their legal duties.

A key part of OSCR's work is to provide advice to trustees. A great deal of useful advice can be found on the OSCR website, where there is a section dedicated to Charity trustees' duties.

Types of charity

The main legislation which charities in Scotland operate is the Charities and Trustees Investment Act (Scotland) 2005 (the 2005 Act). Charities can be created in a number of ways but are usually either:

Each of these charities need to register and file their accounts with OSCR and limited companies are additionally registered with Companies House.

The type of the charity will determine the full extent of a trustee's responsibilities.

Who is a Trustee?

The 2005 Act defines trustees as 'persons having the general control and management of the administration of a charity'. This definition would typically include:

Charities need at all times to fulfil the charitable purpose for which they were created and it is the duty of all the trustees to ensure this.

Trustee restrictions and liabilities

In addition to the responsibilities of being a trustee, there are also a number of restrictions which may apply. These are aimed at preventing a conflict of interest arising between a trustee's personal interests and their duties as a trustee. These provide that generally:

There are limited exceptions to these principles which are set out in the 2005 Act. Where trustees do not act prudently, lawfully or in accordance with their governing document they may find themselves personally responsible for any loss they cause to the charity.

Trustees' responsibilities

The OSCR guidance Charity Trustee Duties explains what it means to be a trustee and how to become one. Trustees have full responsibility for the charity and a general duty to act in the interests of the charity. This means they should:

Trustees have a duty to make sure that their charity's funds are only applied in the furtherance of its' charitable objects. They need to be able to demonstrate that this is the case, so they should keep records which are capable of doing this.

Charity trustees must put the interests of the charity before their own needs or those of any relatives or business interests. Where a decision must be taken where one option would be in the interests of a trustee and another in that of the charity a trustee should make sure the other trustees know of the conflict and should not take part in the discussion or decision.

The OSCR guidance Charity Trustee Duties also provides information on some specific duties contained in the 2005 Act. The guidance sets out trustees' duties to:

These duties are shared by every individual in charge of the charity. No individual charity trustee (for example the Chair or Treasurer) has more responsibility than any other trustee.

Accounting requirements

The 2005 Act requires that charities:

The extent to which these requirements have to be met generally depends upon the type of charity and how much income is generated.

Funds requirements

An important aspect of accounting for charities is the understanding of the different 'funds' that a charity can have.

Essentially funds represent the income of the charity and there may be restrictions on how certain types of funds raised can be used. For example, a donation may be received only on the understanding that it is to be used for a specified purpose.

It is then the trustees' responsibility to ensure that such 'restricted' funds are used only as intended.


The effective management and control of fundraising is also an important trustee responsibility. The Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel oversee fundraising standards and deal with fundraising complaints for Scottish registered charities in line with the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The annual report

The annual report is often a fairly comprehensive document, as legislation sets out the minimum amount of information that has to be included. The report generally includes:

Audit requirements

Whether or not a charity requires an audit will depend mainly upon how much income is received or generated and their year end:

There are other criteria to consider, particularly regarding total assets, and we would be pleased to discuss these in more detail with you.

Reporting requirements

There is a comprehensive framework in place that determines how a charity's accounts should be prepared.

Unincorporated charities with income below £250,000 may prepare receipts and payments accounts, unless their governing document says otherwise.

All other charities must prepare accounts that show a 'true and fair' view and are referred to as ‘accruals’ accounts. To show a ‘true and fair’ view the accounts generally need to follow the requirements of the Charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP). The SORP can be viewed at and charities are able to build a bespoke version of the SORP dealing with their own circumstances.

How we can help

If you are in the Devon area please do contact us at Northams for guidance on the reporting requirements for Scottish Charities.