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Law Society: Charity reform must go further than bill proposes

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The Law Society of Scotland has praised the introduction of new legislation to better support and regulate the charity sector, but raised concerns it does not go far enough in reforming areas including transparency and oversight.

The Charities (Regulation and Administration) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament earlier this week, in response to the widespread recognition of the need for reform.

The new bill proposes a number of changes, such as expanding the role of the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to publish annual accounts and the names of trustees for every charity and extending or introducing powers to disqualify trustees or deregister uncooperative charities.

But it falls short on other significant changes the Law Society has been urging since 2019. The current legislation – the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 – has been in place for well over 15 years.

Stuart Duffin, the convener of the Law Society’s Charity Law Sub-Committee said: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has found room in its legislative agenda to address the urgent need to update charity law as it currently stands. Change is needed to ensure the thousands of Scottish charities are properly supported, and that there is appropriate oversight so the general public can have confidence when interacting with any charity registered in Scotland.

“We particularly welcome the proposal to create a record of charity mergers providing for the transfer of legacies, which is an area where we had called for reform to achieve clear public benefit. The changes proposed in this Bill are sensible and proportionate, however we believe they don’t go nearly far enough. A more comprehensive overhaul is needed to put the sector on the strongest possible footing for the future.

“Among the shortcomings of the Bill currently are that it doesn’t introduce a statutory provision to clarify which events are notifiable to ensure appropriate transparency, and hasn’t addressed the need to make it easier for smaller unincorporated charities to become Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organizations ( in SCIO).

“We will be engaging with MSPs and other stakeholders as this Bill progresses seeking to ensure that this is not a missed opportunity for reform.”

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