Carelessness or a major failure in regulatory duty?
Stephen Maxwell, TfN
TWENTY months ago OSCR commissioned a report into ways of assessing the affordability of the charges imposed by many charities as a condition of public access to the charitable benefits they provided.
The commission was welcomed in this column as a sign that OSCR was beginning to take seriously its obligation under the Scottish Charities Act to take into account in assessing an organisation’s eligibility for charitable status how far its charitable benefits were accessible to the public without ‘unduly restrictive conditions, including any fees or charges’.
Recently OSCR published the second of two reports produced from the commission while announcing that it was not going to apply the methodology recommended by the report to individual organisations.
Why on earth not? The minutes of OSCR’s September board meeting when the reports were discussed offer no clue. But the findings of the report suggest some likely explanations.
The most controversial part of OSCR’s regulatory record so far has been its decisions to preserve the charitable status of those fee-paying schools which have been through its Rolling Review. This, despite the fact that these schools charge fees at a level which make them inaccessible to the great majority of Scottish families. How has OSCR reconciled its decisions with its duty to have regard to ‘unduly restrictive’ conditions of access? By taking into account a range of ways in which the school provides benefits to the public including the level of access it offers to families who cannot afford to pay the full fees. But the thresholds it has applied are absurdly low, just 5 to 10 per cent of its income to be used to subsidise means tested places and typically 10 to 15 per cent of places available to families who cannot afford to pay the full fees.
The report sidelined by OSCR illustrates just how untenable OSCR’s position is. Based on 2005/6 figures the report estimates that at £6,500 the cost of sending a single child to a secondary fee-paying day school represented 33 per cent or more of disposable income for 50 per cent of Scottish families with children and would push 16 per cent of families who are not already on Income Support below the poverty line. If all children in a family were sent to fee-paying schools the fees would represent 33 per cent or more of disposable income for 64 per cent of Scottish families not already on Income Support and push
23 per cent below the poverty line. Many Scottish fee-paying schools, including of course boarding schools, charge far more than the Cl (adjusted) £6,500 fee for 2006. For ti a boarding school with fees of £22, fl 300 the cost of a single boy would IT represent 33 per cent or more of dis- Cl posable income for 91 per cent of ti Scottish families and would push 57 d, per cent of families below the poverty line. If all boys in families Cl were sent to the school fees would dl represent 33 per cent or more of dis- b: posable family income for 94 per n