Charities and Coronavirus: An update from the regulator in Scotland OSCR
19th March 2020
The Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) is currently open during our standard operating hours. This is in line with advice from the Scottish Government. Our services are still available but we are operating with fewer resources, so it will take longer than usual for us to answer queries and process any applications.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is fast moving and developing regularly. This web page will be updated to reflect any changes that occur so please revisit it regularly to be kept up-to-date.
OSCR, the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) are committed to working together to support the sector through the COVID-19 pandemic:
In addition to the specific COVID-19 information on this web page, our website contains general advice on governance and regulatory issues.
SCVO has a hub of COVID-19 information and guidance, and has created an online COVID-19 resource that will be regularly updated.
ACOSVO is leading on providing peer support for chief executives and senior leaders.
What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?
There are many sources of information about COVID-19. All charities should read this guidance from the Scottish Government.
The guidance includes advice for non-healthcare settings, and has tips that apply to people working in hospitality settings, leisure facilities, entertainment venues and premises used by community groups. NHS inform will give you the latest public health advice.
One of the most important things is the basic hygiene measures that you can take to help prevent the spread of the infection. These include:
routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces such as telephones, keyboards, door handles, desks and tables
basic hand washing is highlighted as the most effective way of preventing the spread of infection. Hand hygiene promoted by ensuring staff, contractors, service users and visitors have access to hand washing facilities and alcohol-based hand rub, where available
crockery and cutlery in shared kitchen areas should be cleaned with warm water and detergent and dried thoroughly
ensuring food such as crisps and sandwiches should not be left open for communal sharing unless individually wrapped.
Gathering information for the sector
To help influence and shape support for the sector, SCVO is asking organisations to share information about the challenges they are facing as a result of COVID-19 and the potential impact. Please email a summary to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
For charities, there are some specific concerns that we have become aware of, and we will cover those briefly below. General frequently asked questions are available here
What if I have to cancel my AGM or other key events/meetings?
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have an impact on a number of events over the next while. This might include the holding of your AGM. This might make it difficult for you to finalise your annual reports and accounts.
Wherever possible, we would ask you to try to get these to us on time. All you need to do is log on as usual and scan us your reports and accounts. However, we understand that it might be difficult for some and we will take an understanding and proportionate approach to this.
It may be that by postponing your AGM, you are not fulfilling what it says in your governing document. However, we would be understanding and proportionate about that. We would still ask you to send as much as you can by your deadline, where possible.
While we are currently not planning to extend filing deadlines, we will continue to look at this issue and see how we can best support the sector at this difficult time.
Can we hold our important meetings virtually?
Where it isn't going to be possible to get together face-to-face, holding meetings virtually could be a good option. Some charities have specific provisions in their governing documents to allow meetings to take place over the phone or using digital solutions. However, in the current situation, we are happy that charities hold their meetings in this way even if the governing document doesn't say anything about this. This will allow charity trustees to have important discussions and to take decisions at this difficult time. Where you decide to take this virtual route, you should record that they have done this, thus demonstrating good governance of your charity.
What if my charity could do something to help people directly in our community, but our governing document would prevent us from doing so?
It is a great sentiment to want to do everything you can to help your communities. However, it is one of the basics of charity law to follow your governing document and make sure that your charity is working within its purposes. There are many charities who might be better placed than your own to respond in particular circumstances.
On the other hand, you may be uniquely placed to deliver a service or support to a particular community, and a temporary change to your purposes would allow you to do so. For such cases, we will put in place a process aimed at approving such changes as quickly as possible. If you feel you fall into this category, you should get in touch with us as soon as you think you want to make some changes.
Can we change our charity's purposes so we can use our resources to help with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Charities should still apply for consent to OSCR to change their purposes. In this instance, charities need to mark on the application form that the change is in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can prioritise those applications. Please do this by adding "(Coronavirus-related change)" next to the Charity name box. Examples of purpose wordings can be found in our guidance.
What if the current situation has a negative impact on my charity? Should I be reporting it to OSCR as a notifiable event?
Our notifiable events regime was set-up in order that we might play a role in minimising the impact of serious problems and issues on charities. By hearing about serious problems at a relatively early stage, the aim was to play a more preventative and facilitative role. Notifiable events do not cover every incident, only those that may have a significant impact on your charity.
The same would apply in the current situation. We would only need to hear about something if it was likely to have a serious impact on your charity in the longer term. It might be that your significant fundraising activity for the year takes place at a time, which means it has to be cancelled. This might be significant in terms of you being able to carry on with your activities and you would want to report that to us.
However, don't worry. Reporting does not need to be at the very top of your list. Making sure you have the time and space with your fellow trustees to make the right decisions for your organisation is the main thing to be thinking about. As always, make sure you are recording the decisions you make and the reasons for them. And, if your trustees do think it is going to have a significant impact on your charity, then let us know as soon as you can.
I have heard that people are using the crisis as a way of trying to defraud people? Is that true? What can I do to prevent it?
A crisis is a great time to try to exploit people’s fears and vulnerabilities. This crisis is no different. There have been some attempts by cyber-criminals to target industries and individuals, usually for short or longer-term financial gain. A recent BBC article highlighted some of these campaigns, and it is worth a read.
We produced a ‘Fraud and Cybercrime’ factsheet, which outlines some of the basic things you need to be thinking about to avoid becoming a victim of scammers.
Anything else I should be thinking about?
We will continue to review information and analyse the different queries and worries that are coming into us. Where we think it will help, we will publish extra information. In the meantime, keep reviewing the Scottish Government information. This is updated daily and will give you a good overview of what you should be thinking about as charity trustees.
Read the full release with many links to more information HERE