Perhaps the most interesting part of the report is the final section "How will OSCR look at these charities in the future?". The Regulator concludes that, given the high number of charities which failed the charity test when reviewed, it is "reasonable for OSCR to continue to maintain a higher level of vigilance concerning the compliance of this group of charities."
Having committed a significant amount of time and resources to conducting its review and seeking to ensure all the schools in question meet the charity test, OSCR is, understandably, reluctant to lose this ground. Therefore, it plans to:
- work with these schools to improve the quality of Trustee Annual Reports and look to agree a standard for reporting and to enforce that standard; and
- identify selected schools for specific annual monitoring as part of the changes to annual reporting which will apply to all charities, starting with annual returns for year ends July-August 2014.
While this review is now complete, it is clear that the status of the schools remains a key focus for OSCR going forward. Undoubtedly, some independent schools may feel aggrieved that, having had their charitable status confirmed, they may continue to receive particular attention from the Regulator, although OSCR has recognised that a significant amount of time and resources has been focussed on the independent schools' review and has signalled an intention to turn its attention to other groups of charities. In fact, a review of charitable local authority Arm’s Length External Organisations is part of the Regulator's business plan for 2014/2015.
With this in mind, all charities should keep one eye on whether they continue to meet the charity test. The schools review, as helpfully summarised in the report, should serve as a useful reminder, if one were needed, that the Scottish charity test is an on-going one, which applies throughout the life of a charity.