- Charities in Scotland are largely governed by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (“OSCR”) set up by the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”). OSCR’s general functions include:
- determining whether bodies qualify as “charities”;
- keeping a public register of charities;
- encouraging and monitoring compliance by charities with the provisions of the 2005 Act; and
- identifying and investigating apparent misconduct in the administration of charities.
- As far as charity fundraising goes, certain aspects are regulated by OSCR. For example, many charities employ professional fundraisers to act on their behalf and the 2005 Act makes certain specific provisions about there being a written agreement covering such arrangements (supplemented by the Charities and Benevolent Fundraising (Scotland) Regulations 2009). But these provisions are specific – not general. And, although in principle a member of the public could raise concerns with OSCR about charity fundraising methods OSCR had no specific remit to deal with concerns about persistent, unreasonable pursuit of donations by charities.
- Instead fundraising has been governed by a rather confusing patchwork system of self-regulation. That system of self-regulation has come under increasing scrutiny recently partly as a result of media coverage. Perhaps the most high-profile individual case concerned Olive Cooke and was reported in the Guardian in January this year as follows:
“A 92-year-old poppy seller who took her own life felt “distressed and overwhelmed” by the huge number of requests for donations she received from charities, a report has concluded.
Olive Cooke, who died in the Avon gorge in Bristol, may have received almost 3,000 mailings from charities in a year …
After the death of Cooke, who was believed to be the longest-serving and most prolific poppy seller, family and friends said she had been upset by charities constantly asking her for money, prompting widespread concern over how fundraisers operate.”
- Such coverage has, unsurprisingly, had an effect on public perceptions of charities. That may be illustrated by OSCR’s March 2016 survey of public attitudes toward charities which found:
“More than a third of respondents reported their trust in charities decreasing, with more than half of these relating the drop to media stories. The percentage of people who were very concerned about charity fundraising methods had risen from 15% in 2011 to 26% in 2016. Aggressive fundraising tactics, a fear of donations not going to the correct place, and cold calling were the fundraising issues that most concerned respondents.”
- Largely as a result of such concerns a Scottish Fundraising Working Group was set up to look at the options for improving things. Its recommendations are more evolutionary than revolutionary: regulation should rely on a strengthening of complaints procedures within charities themselves, and an enhanced role for OSCR. In essence the new régime will offer a more streamlined and centralised means of dealing with concerns about a charity’s fundraising methods.
- As from this month that new régime is in place. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ media release said:
“A new free-phone fundraising complaints line and website has gone live to assist members of the public wishing to make a complaint about charity fundraising in Scotland.
Scottish Fundraising Complaints, which has been set up by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Scottish charity regulator OSCR, will give people all the information they need to resolve any concerns about a charity’s fundraising practices and help to maintain trust and confidence in Scotland’s fundraising charities.
The new complaints hub is an important element of a new, enhanced, model for charity fundraising regulation in Scotland which will see more responsibility placed on charities and the Scottish charity regulator, OSCR, to encourage good practice.
Members of the public concerned about the fundraising tactics of a charity in Scotland, should call Scottish Fundraising Complaints on 0808 164 2520, visit fundraisingcomplaints.scot (“brought to you by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR)”) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
- As that extract from the SCVO media release suggests the new régime “will see more responsibility placed on charities” and the first place to go with any complaint will continue to be the charity itself. Where a charity is of a sufficient size, there should be a two tier complaints structure in place. So, if an individual feels that a complaint has not been handled well, it can be referred up to the “charity trustees”.
- If the individual still remains dissatisfied, the complaint will be referred to an independent panel made up of representatives from the public, donors, charities, and fundraisers, with OSCR and the Scottish government as observers.
- This Panel is not in fact yet in place. But the expectation is that it will be in place by autumn of this year. In the meantime, until the Panel has been established, OSCR will collect relevant complaints and those that fall to be dealt with by the Panel will be passed on once it has been established.
- This shift in emphasis is, as suggested above, more evolutionary than revolutionary but hopefully it will prove significant.
- It should be noted that the above focuses exclusively on Scottish charities. Complaints about charities registered in the rest of the UK are dealt with by the Fundraising Regulator: www.fundraisingregulator.org.uk. If, in relation to a non-Scots charity, you have been through the charity’s own complaints procedure and are still unhappy, you should contact them.
Note: This material is for information purposes only and does not constitute any form of advice or recommendation by us. You should not rely upon it in making any decisions or taking or refraining from taking any action. If you would like us to advise you on any of the matters covered in this material, please contact Kathryn Bready: KathrynB@mitchells-roberton.co.uk