Posts tagged ‘Best Defence’

When working with charities, the question I get asked the most is “is our TAR detailed enough?” as they naturally do not want to expose all, yet they appreciate that this is a key document that is clearly defined by the SORP 2005 and is crucial in demonstrating compliance with the public benefit tests (see previous blog post ‘Public benefit – your best defence…’)

To answer the question directly the report should:

  • be about 4-6 pages of A4 print, font 11 for a small to medium sized organisation
  • clearly explain how the organisation fulfils it’s objects and adheres to it’s governing document
  • use plain English and refer to the accounts to which it is attached, but not regurgitate the accounting information
  • use the prescribed format set out in the SORP.  i.e. use the 7 key headings.

For those who are not familiar with the SORP 2005, these prescribed headings are:

  1. References and administrative details of the Charity, its Trustees and advisers
  2. Structure, Governance and Management
  3. Objectives and Activities
  4. Achievements and Performance
  5. Financial Review
  6. Plans for future periods
  7. Funds held as a Custodian Trustee (if appropriate)

Model reports are available on the Charity Commission Website  http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/

Some key points that are often missed

  • In paragraph 2 explain how trustees are recruited and outline the policies for induction/training of trustees.  Mapping the skills of the board and recruiting to fill skills gaps is a sign of great governance.  If your organisation has carried out this exercise, brag!
  • When explaining to the reader your objectives, paragraph 3, focus on the positive impact significant activities have had and explain how they have contributed to the achievement of the stated objectives.  If the organisation is grant making, ensure the policies are explained and if volunteers are utilised, readers need to understand their role and contribution.  If possible, quantify this in terms of hours, locations etcetera
  • bs00876aPerformance, paragraph 4, should identify milestones and KPI’s so that achievements can be benchmarked against objectives.  The public are keen to know the percentage of resources allocated to overheads, they need to understand the ROI i.e. impact per pound of funds raised.  This is obviously difficult to quantify as many of the aims are emotional, not financial, but trustees should not shy away from trying.  I have often seen larger, national charities measure their impact in terms of taxpayers money saved.
  • The financial review needs to look at each fund and state the principle financial policies adopted.  Take time to clearly explain the reserves policy in particular as the Charity Commission will be monitoring this.  Make comment on how the current years performance and the current activities effect reserves.  Also, outline any financial commitments such as borrowing or obligatory grants.

This list is not exhaustive, but I hope I have set out the key points, please call me if you would like to discuss your TAR or would like me to review your draft.  Please note however, that an auditor can not write this report for you so please don’t ask!

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.

The Charity Commissioners have been quite public about their detailed and sometime rigorous reviews of registered charities’ compliance with their public benefit tests.

The two key principles of this imperative test being:

support tree1. There must be an identifiable benefit (or benefits)

It must be clear what the benefits are, how they relate to the aims of the organisation and they bust be balanced against any detriment or harm.

2. The benefit must be to the public (or section of the public) 

The beneficiaries must be appropriate to the aims.  If a section of the public is the target, the opportunity to benefit must not be unreasonably restricted by geography or ability to afford fees etc.  People in poverty specifically must not be precluded from the opportunity to benefit and any non-public benefit should be incidental.


The implications of losing charitable status are huge.  Not only would the loss affect public confidence and therefore the ability to raise funds, but H M Revenue & Customs have the right to ‘unwind’ tax exemptions claimed in the past six years which could create liabilities that would simply end the organisation’s ability to continue.

If you would like to see some of the Commission’s “Emerging Findings” reports, take a look at their website.  http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/publicbenefit  You will notice that they seem to be targeting fee charging schools as they are suggesting that offering a few bursaries to good students that can not afford to attend, does not constitute ‘public’ and is not going far enough to remove restrictions, but all charities are susceptible to this review.

Any charity with annual income above £25,000 (effective for accounting periods commencing 1st April 2009) must attach a Trustees’ Report to their financial statements and file these with the Commission with in 10 months of the accounting year end.  For incorporated charities this is in addition to the required Directors report.

This report is in my view, the best defence against a review as it gives the Trustees the chance to explain the activities of the organisation in both financial and non-financial terms as well as stating the aims, objectives and policies of those charged with governance.  It should tell the ‘story’ of the charity for the year giving those who are not trained in business the ability to understand how the charity is performing and the impact it is having on the public.

Much of my time spent working with trustees of charities revolves around this key report, guiding and advising them on structure, essential disclosures and helping them to explain the accounts and performance of their organisation.

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.