Confusion over role of charity in today’s society: Letter to the Herald

Confusion over role of charity in today’s society
Letter to the Herald
Stephen Maxwell

Your reporting (December 15) of the plans by two of Scotland’s fee-paying schools to defend their status as Scottish charities by focusing their bursaries more tightly on means-tested pupils fails to explain just how low the threshold for charitable status set by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) really is.

OSCR’s record in confirming the charitable status of the great majority of the fee-paying schools it has reviewed to date shows that it is satisfied if between 5% and 10% of a school’s total income is used for means-tested support.

This low threshold is difficult to reconcile with the provisions of the Charities Scotland Act 2005. The Act requires that to qualify as a Scottish charity, public access to its benefits must not be subject to ‘unduly restrictive’ conditions, including any fees or charges. In successfully moving this provision as an amendment to the Bill, MSP John Home Robertson made it clear that his purpose was to make it impossible for an organisation which catered mainly for people able to afford to pay high fees to be a Scottish charity.

Yet OSCR allows schools which typically reserve 90% or more of their places to pupils whose families can afford to pay secondary school fees ranging from £8000 to £20,000 to remain charities.

It is not surprising that there is so much public confusion around the purpose and role of charity in modern society.

Stephen Maxwell, Associate Director, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Edinburgh