One of St Andrews’ largest charity fashion shows, DONT WALK, is at risk of losing its charitable status.

As of the time of writing (22 April), DONT WALK Charity Fashion Show is currently 325 days overdue providing the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) with information on its finances.

By law, Scottish charities are required to provide OSCR with annual reports and accounts for the sake of public transparency.

Supplying a state of accounts to the regulator is part of what is known as the “charity test,” which must be met in order to qualify for charitable status.

The internationally recognised event was heralded by the British press as being where “Will first noticed Kate.”

The Duchess of Cambridge famously modelled for the show, which was established as a charitable event in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

However, DONT WALK now finds itself in breach of the Charities and Trustees (Scotland) Act of 2005.

Failure to cooperate and disclose its financial information to the OSCR could result in conviction and subsequent imposition of a Level 3 fine. In Scotland, a Level 3 fine is one that may not exceed a total of £1000.

Under the 2005 Act, DONT WALK as an organisation cannot be fined. It is instead the individual(s) responsible for providing a statement of account. Currently, the charity lists student Iain McComish as their point of contact, or trustee.

The DONT WALK Charity Fashion show is attended by hundreds of students every year. Their website states that, “[DONT WALK] combine[s] the mediums of art, fashion, and performance to challenge all forms of structural inequality.

“We are unafraid and unbound by rules.”

The Saint contacted Mr McComish for comment along with other members of the DONT WALK committee. However, after 72 hours, no reply was received. This was despite multiple attempts to establish contact with members of the new and outgoing committee.

OSCR confirmed to The Saint that they were in contact with DONT WALK regarding the lack of disclosure.

A spokesperson for OSCR said, “If a charity’s information is not sent to us within 10 weeks of the deadline date the charity will be shown as ‘defaulting’ on the Scottish Charity Register.

“This means the charity has defaulted on the legal requirement to provide OSCR with annual reports and accounts, which is a breach of the charity trustees’ duties. This is misconduct and we have powers to take action against charity trustees where appropriate and proportionate.”

Scottish law dictates that OSCR may appoint a “suitably qualified person” to prepare a financial statement on behalf of DONT WALK, for which the charity would be required to foot the bill.

Only if DONT WALK fail to cooperate with the appointed individual can conviction take place.

So far it is unclear if such a person has been appointed, or if the charity can afford the action.

The spokesperson continued, “Without this information we may conclude that a charity is not carrying out activities to advance its charitable purposes, is not providing public benefit and therefore does not meet the charity test.”

The charity test, as defined by the 2005 Act, is a set of standards that Scottish charities must meet in order to qualify for charitable status.

Obtaining charitable status in Scotland has a number of benefits. Primarily, it qualifies organisations for various forms of HMRC tax relief, including Gift Aid.

The OSCR does also offer assistance to charities with their submission, “when a charity is late we communicate with them directly and offer support where we can. This provides an additional opportunity for the charity to supply the information. Ultimately though, charitable status can be removed.”

Since its inception, DONT WALK has raised over £220,000 for charity which has earned it an internationally recognised reputation which transcends the small town where it is registered.

We are unafraid and unbound by rules

It has drawn attention from international publications such as the HuffPost.

Previous years’ events were held in support of the Robin Hood Foundation, based in New York City and Salam LADC, based in Lebanon. This year the charities supported were FHI 360 and Comic Relief.

According to OSCR’s website quoting DONT WALK’s finances, this may not be the first time the charity has run into financial difficulty. In 2014 the charity was reported to have expenses £3,633 more than their income.

In previous years, DONT WALK has hired a private accountancy firm to complete their returns for them.

Of the past five years’ worth of annual returns, DONT WALK have been late submitting on three, including the current financial statement not received by OSCR.

OSCR’s Head of Engagement Dr Jude Turbyne said, “If a Scottish charity does not meet its obligations, it can damage the charity’s reputation and affect public confidence.

“It is vital that charities demonstrate the great work they do and annual reporting allows them to do that. We recognise that the vast majority of organisations use this opportunity to their advantage.

“However, it is disappointing to see that on a specific date where so many charities have a deadline, there has been a large number who have missed it. This is despite OSCR and other bodies being there to help them.”

They continued, “As regulator, we have powers that can have an impact on charities who do not meet their duties. However, the best solution for the charities in question is to take this responsibility seriously and resolve their non-submitting status quickly.”

Where Will first noticed Kate

The OSCR website asserts that there can be legitimate reasons for a charity not submitting on time. However, when OSCR has contacted many non-submitting charities the underlying reason seems to be that reporting has not been given the requisite level of importance.

In January 2015, OSCR removed 1,000 charities from the Scottish Charity register in a “register cleanse,” or being inactive or failing to file their annual returns.

Charities have been removed from the register whilst being less overdue on their returns than DONT WALK. The Magic Circle Benevolent Fund, which benefits past and present members of the magicians organisation and their families, was removed on 9 September 2014.

It had failed to submit its annual return for the financial year ending 31 March 2013, which was due by 31 January 2014.

Despite the overdue statement, DONT WALK continues to hold smaller collaboration events and has recently ended its applications for 2019 committee places.

The board members go through an application process similar to any job interview, and 200 people compete for 35 coveted spots.

So far, it is unclear if the responsibility for financial returns will remain with Mr McComish, or if it will be passed on to his successor as Finance Director of DONT WALK and trustee of the charity.

We may conclude that a charity is not carrying out activities to advance charitable purposes

Given that the end date for the financial report of Scottish charities is fast approaching, the DONT WALK committee will shortly be due to submit another report of accounts to the OSCR for 2017 in addition to the one still not returned.

Photo provided by ASM Media & PR. 

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