The SFA has announced it has decided that it will launch an investigation into what has happened at Rangers FC.
How on earth has this anything to do with charities?
Well, we are now about two years into having an HMRC administered "fit and proper" persons test for charity trustees and managers. The SFA is basing its investigation partly on its "fit and proper" rules.
There was quite rightly concern when the "fit and proper" persons test was introduced for charities. It arrived with little consultation or warning. It combined the most unfortunate elements of legislation - it was nebulous, wide ranging and had serious sanctions attached for charity and individual.
The best defence was offence. Training, good governance, well selected trustees and management as well as strong financial management seem to be the ways to deal with the "fit and proper" test. The test's wide-ranging nature means that a sensible multi-faceted approach to proper governance and management is the way to avoid being adversely affected by the rules.
HMRC say they have stopped significant charity tax fraud based on the new rules and checks. For those having been party to new the forms that are the "checks", HMRC's claim may come as a surprise. Whatever the true position, the rules exist and have been applied. The risks of not adhering to the rules (reputational and financial, particularly cash flow) are real.
So what can charities learn from the example of Rangers and other football clubs?
- There is a "fit and proper" persons test.
- The test, when applied, has teeth.
- The best way to deal with the test is to head it off with strong governance and active engagement with trustees and management via training and communication.
- If charities do have governance issues ("fit and proper" person test or otherwise) they need to learn lessons. That means taking a proactive approach to problems and proactively dealing with regulators and funders. An "ostrich" approach can seriously magnify a governance issue. It should be remembered that OSCR must proportionately deal with governance issues that fall into the inquiry or even misconduct category.
The governance of football clubs is far removed from the third sector. Well managed charities will take "fit and proper" in their stride. We particularly see that when we speak to and train trustees.
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This briefing is written as a general guide only. It is not intended to contain definitive legal advice which should be sought as appropriate in relation to any particular matter.