Charity law: objectionable names

Published: 20/11/2018
Updated: 20/11/2018

Summary

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 (2005 Act) states that OSCR must refuse to enter a charity in the Scottish Charity Register if the name is objectionable. The 2005 Act sets out four types of objectionable name:

  1. Names that are ‘the same as, or too like, the name of a charity’

  2. Names that are ‘likely to mislead the public as to the true nature of the purposes of the body or of the activities which it carries on, or intends to carry on, in pursuit of those purposes’

  3. Names that are ‘likely to give the impression that the body is connected in some way to the Scottish Administration, Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, or any local authority, or with any person, when it is not so connected’

  4. Names that are ‘offensive’

 

Having rules about charity names helps to make sure:

  • that individual charities are easy to recognise
  • the public can clearly distinguish between charities
  • charity names don’t confuse the public and stakeholders about what the charity does.   

We will always consider the specific circumstances in making decisions in individual cases.

 

What the law says
A name is objectionable if it is ‘the same as, or too like, the name of a charity’

What this means

  1. A ‘charity’ means an organisation which is entered in the Scottish Charity Register. It does not cover organisations registered as charities elsewhere, like another part of the UK or organisations that are not charities.

  2. When deciding if a name is ‘the same as’ the name of another charity, we will ignore very small differences that have little or no impact on the name.

For example: ‘The’ at the beginning of the name: ‘Samaritans’ would be regarded as the same name as ‘The Samaritans’. Or Abbreviations and different forms of the same word: Limited’ and ‘Ltd’, ‘&’ and ‘and’.

Different spellings of the same word (for example medieval and mediaeval) are considered to be the same. However, just because words sound the same does not mean they are the same word: the ‘Ayr Trust’ and the ‘Air Trust’ are not the same.

  1. When deciding if a name is ‘too like’ the name of another charity, we look what the differences are and consider if it is likely that the public would get the two confused.

For example: Where the only difference is that the words are in a different order: ‘Countrywatch Scotland’ and ‘Scotland Countrywatch’ are too like one another.

However, ‘Edinburgh Aid Society’ and ‘Edinburgh AIDS Society’ are not too alike as the words ‘Aid’ and ‘AIDS’, have different meanings.



What the law says
A name is objectionable if it is ‘likely to mislead the public as to the true nature of the purposes of the body or of the activities which it carries on, or intends to carry on, in pursuit of those purposes’

What this means
When deciding if a name is likely to mislead the public, we will look at:

  • the purposes set out in your charity’s governing document
  • the day to day activities that your charity carries out in support of its purposes
  • where there is a geographic area of operation in the name, we check that this is accurate and reflects the extent of your operations.

For example: a charity that operates solely in Haddington and does not intend to expand its operations to other areas is likely to mislead the public if its name is the ‘The Borders and Lothians Homelessness Society’.

The use of a national reference, such as Scottish, National, British or UK, can suggest that your organisation is outstanding or important in the country in its field. If your charity is not outstanding in what it does or it does not have particular recognition from government or other relevant bodies, then the name may be misleading.

This doesn’t mean that charity names need to describe the purposes or activities. Many charities have names that convey no sense of their purposes or activities and this is fine as long as they’re not misleading. For example a charity named after the individual who set it up would not have a misleading name. 

Sometimes a word or phrase within the name has a dominant or common meaning. When this happens, we will assume that the public will attach this more common meaning to the word or phrase.

For example: the public would expect a charity called ‘The Humpty Dumpty Trust’ to work with children.



What the law says
A name is objectionable if it is ‘likely to give the impression that the body is connected in some way to the Scottish Administration, Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, or any local authority, or with any person, when it is not so connected’

What this means
When deciding if a name suggests a connection we look at two things: 

(a) Is the name is likely to suggest a connection to government or some other person or corporate body, like a company or a SCIO?

Here we look at words and word combinations to decide if a name suggests a possible connection. We look at the uniqueness or ‘brand value’ of the word or words used in the name. By ‘brand value’, we mean words and word combinations that are unique to a particular organisation or person by general association.

For example: names that include the words ‘Red Cross’ (but not ‘Red’ or ‘Cross’ on their own) suggest a connection.

We also look for words or word combinations that might suggest a connection to government. For example, the name ‘Scottish Assembly’ could suggest a connection to the Scottish Government and/or the Scottish Parliament (where one does not exist). 

(b) Is there actually a connection?

If there is a genuine connection then the name won’t be objectionable. We may ask for evidence from you that this is the case.

For example: If the name has a reference to any person who is a well-known public figure, then a genuine, personal connection must exist.



What the law says
A name is objectionable if it is ‘offensive’

What this means
Generally, we consider names as offensive if they contain racist, sexist, vulgar or other derogatory references or suggest contempt for a certain particular section of society.  This includes offensive acronyms.

We understand that the public view can vary in terms of what is and isn’t considered offensive. What may offend one person may not offend someone else. We will carefully consider the specific context and factors in each case before reaching our decision:

  • Is there any dual meaning implied by the word or phrase used?
  • Will the name offend the charity’s intended beneficiary group?
  • Is the name counterproductive? Could it result in reputational risk to the charity?
  • Words and phrases in a foreign language can also be offensive.