Setting up and running a charity – guidance

Prepare a charity annual return

You must send an annual return (or update your details) every year if your charity is registered in England or Wales.

Charity annual returns

Over 6 million people search for and find charities’ details online every year. The annual return you complete tells potential donors, funders, volunteers and beneficiaries about your charity. For example:

  • how people can contact your charity
  • what it is set up to do
  • how it meets its aims
  • how much money it makes and spends
  • where it operates

You can find most of the information you need in your charity’s accounts and trustees’ annual report.

Completing annual returns – the law

As a charity trustee, by law you must keep your charity’s registered details up-to-date. You need to update your charity’s details before you complete its annual return.

If your charity’s income is more than £10,000, you must complete an annual return within 10 months of the end of each financial reporting period. Charitable incorporated organisations (CIOs) must complete an annual return regardless of their income.

If you fail to meet this legal requirement, your charity’s details will be marked ‘overdue’. This could put off potential donors, funders or volunteers.

After 6 months the Charity Commission may remove your charity’s details altogether and consider whether further action is needed.

If your charity is not a CIO and its income is under £10,000, complete the annual return to meet your legal obligation to keep your registered details up-to-date.

What a charity annual return includes

Your charity annual return is an online form - before you start, you’ll need:

  • your charity’s online services password
  • your registered charity number
  • registration numbers for any linked charities (if applicable)

Financial information

From your charity’s latest accounts, provide:

  • start and end dates for the financial period you’re reporting (for example 01/04/2013 to 31/03/2014)
  • total income and total spending for this reporting period
  • total spending outside England and Wales (if applicable)

If your charity’s income is over £25,000, you’ll need to submit a PDF copy of its accounts – these do not need to be signed. CIOs must submit accounts regardless of their income. These accounts need to be agreed by the trustees and you should also include a PDF copy of your independent examiner or auditor’s report.

If your charity’s income is over £25,000, you also need to send its trustees’ annual report (TAR). CIOs must submit a TAR regardless of their income.

If your charity’s income is over £500,000, you’ll need to include extra financial information from its accounts in the form.

Serious incident reports

If your charity has an income of £25,000 or more, you must state if any serious incidents took place in the last year, including any that you should have reported but did not.

When to complete your annual return

Complete your charity’s annual return as soon as you approve its latest accounts and trustees’ annual report.

If your charity’s income is more than £10,000, by law, you must complete an annual return within 10 months of the financial reporting period ending. All CIOs must complete an annual return regardless of their income.

As trustees, you’re responsible for making sure your charity’s annual return is completed on time. If you delegate this task – for example, to a member of staff – make sure they know what to do and when it is due.

Plan ahead to make sure your charity completes its annual return on time. You should also:

  • update the charity’s details whenever something changes, such as a trustee being replaced
  • keep your charity’s password safe, particularly if the person who has it leaves the charity
  • arrange handover training if someone takes over responsibility for completing the annual return
  • arrange a trustee meeting to agree the accounts and trustees’ annual report within two months of the financial period ending