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.

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
  • its company number (if applicable)
  • 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 £500,000, you will need to include extra financial information from your accounts in the form.

You also need to provide the account name, sort code and account number for your charity’s main bank or building society account. The commission won’t publish these details.

Contact details for your charity

You need to let people know the main contact for your charity. This might be:

  • a trustee
  • a person who acts on behalf of the charity
  • an organisation which acts for the charity, such as a firm of solicitors
  • a corporate trustee, such as a parish council or an NHS trust

Any name, address, telephone and email you give will be visible to the public. You can provide a separate email for the commission to contact you (this will not appear in your charity’s public details).

Your charity’s people

For each trustee, provide:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • address
  • telephone (optional)
  • email (optional)

Only the trustees’ names will be made public. You can also say how many volunteers or employees your charity has.

Your charity’s aims and activities

You can find this information in your trustees’ annual report. You need to provide:

  • a short description of your charity’s activities in the reporting period (typically around 100 words)
  • information about what your charity does
  • regions or countries where your charity worked in the reporting period

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

Charities over £1 million income don’t have to complete a summary information return (SIR) as part of the annual return from AR2014 onwards.

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

You can 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:

  • 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
  • tell the commission whenever something changes, such as a trustee being replaced
  • arrange a trustee meeting to agree the accounts and trustees’ annual report within two months of the financial period ending

If you’ve never completed a charity annual return before and your charity’s income is under £25,000, use the video tutorial below to see what’s involved:

Charity annual return