We provide all the general Audit and Accountancy services, payroll, book-keeping, and advice for Charities, flat management companies and other not for profit organisations. Our specialist staff and systems allow us to provide not just the right expertise but in these organisations with tight budget constraints our services are highly competitive and aimed to provide value at the lowest cost possible with all the usual reporting and compliance matters. 

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How to choose an accountant for your charity – an outsourcing guide for small-mid-sized UK charities and social enterprises. 

Accounting requirements for UK charities and social enterprises/not-for-profits are an ever-changing, complex field. For small organisations without an in house accountant, finance team, or knowledgeable Finance Director, an accountancy firm that understands the funding concerns and payroll/bookkeeping requirements of Third Sector organisations is an invaluable resource.

Why do charities need a specialist accountant?

Over recent years, direct government funding for the Third Sector has decreased, so the competition for private donations, Trust Funds, government grants, and local authority contracts has skyrocketed. This is why charities should prioritise legal compliance and sustainability as an integral part of their financial planning strategy when approaching fundraising and bid management.

If you run a charity or social enterprise, you need an accountant who can help you fulfil the statutory filing duties stipulated by the Charities Commission (CC) – and an impartial advisor who can support you in making good financial decisions for your charity.

Specialist guidance in this area is vital, because accounting standards and SORP (Charities Statement of Recommended Practice) in the UK is set to change in 2023.

In this guide for managers and directors of small charities or boards of trustees, we look at the main areas in which working with an experienced firm of Chartered Accountants, such as David Howard, can help ensure compliance, and save you time and money.


Forming a New Charity

If you want advice about setting up a registered charity or social enterprise, or even for help establishing the right accounting systems for an unincorporated association, a good accountant can evaluate your plans and help you determine the structure that best fits your purposes.

This will affect who runs the organisation, whether it employs people under its name, whether trustees are accountable for the organisation’s actions, and whether it has a broader membership. In most cases, there are four main charity structures, namely: a Charitable Company (a not-for-profit business limited by guarantee), a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation), an Unincorporated Association (UA) and a Trust.

Some charities are structured as formal ‘corporate’ bodies. If you opt for this model, the law regards your organisation as an individual legal entity, separate from its officers and trustees. Consequently, your charity will be permitted to do things, under its name, that individual people are permitted to do. This includes providing charitable services under contractual arrangements, employing staff, owning property or leasehold/freehold land, and signing commercial agreements in its name. Typically, the trustees in charities of this kind have no personal liability for what the organisation does.

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In contrast, if your charity is ‘unincorporated’, i.e. not a corporate body, its trustees have personal liability for its actions. Your organisation will not be allowed to control certain investments, accept certain grants, or sign contracts in its name.

If your charity is structured to include a wider membership, its members can vote on key issues at annual general meetings, etc. They might vote to appoint committee members, or they could hold a ballot to change the governing document or ‘Articles of Association’ for the charity.

Charities with wider memberships must not exist to benefit their members solely, a large enough percentage of the general public must be able to become members and enjoy the benefits too. Amateur sports clubs, which are open to everyone, are a good example of this. This ensures that your charity operates in the interests of society as a whole.

Of course, some charities are not structured to include a membership base. In these organisations, the trustees make all operational decisions. They choose how to allocate the budget and how to appoint new trustees.

Sometimes, the trustees of a charity might decide that its structure should change, to better support the work they do. However, this can sometimes prove difficult or in some cases not possible, therefore hiring a specialist accountant from the outset will allow you to choose the right structure to achieve your future goals.

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Value Added Tax (VAT)

When it comes to VAT, charities often struggle to determine the specialist VAT rules that apply to the Third Sector, as these are more complex than for businesses in the private sector.


A specialist Charity accountant will be able to help you understand these and introduce systems for effective tax planning and VAT management. This way, you will understand your obligations clearly and avoid costly mistakes – which could lead to HMRC sanctions. Better still, you will benefit from any opportunities that exist to claim VAT relief on expenses and donations.

Tax Considerations 

A notable issue that charities face is their tax liability, which is different to private companies. Some of the key considerations include:

  1. Tax planning to include things like trading subsidiaries and the small trading tax exemption.
  2. Checking that Gift Aid, tax and VAT reporting are being handled in a compliant manner.
  3. Calculating any tax liabilities on profits not qualifying for tax relief.
  4. Organising and optimising systems for Gift Aid.
  5. Ensuring that fundraisers receive training on tax implications.
  6. The specific taxation rules surrounding the profits of Community Amateur Sports Groups (CASC’s).

A good accountant will explain the issues to you and advise how to approach them to increase your charity’s revenue. 

Accounts, Annual Reports and Annual Returns

You will need to prepare annual accounts that are available on request, regardless of whether your Charity is registered with the Charity Commission or not (you must be registered if your income is £5,000 or higher, or you are a CIO).

There are different rules about accounting for charities, based on their size and type. To understand the rules for your organisation, check its income to date for the year, and the value of its assets. Also, you should know whether you have to register as a charity, and whether you are classed as a CIC or a company.

A registered charity has to prepare an annual trustee report, and make this available when requested.

For all CIOs and for charities whose income exceeds £25,000, they must file both annual accounts and the trustee’s annual report online with the Charity Commission.

Annual return form – This allows the Charity Commission to update the information about every organisation on its register. These forms are supplied to registered charities yearly and provide the commission with basic financial data, as well as details of activities, trustees, and contacts. They indicate which classification a charity falls under too.

All charities with income exceeding £10,000 must file the annual return form with the commission. Registered charities with lower income levels just have the obligation to keep their registered details up to date and can use the annual return form to do this.

Financial accounts for charities might be prepared based on an accruals basis, or on a receipts and payments basis. The method will depend on your charity’s income, and whether it is classed as a company.


Receipts and payments is the simplest preparation method. This can be used if your charity is not a company, with an annual income no higher than £250,000. This involves preparing an account summarising the money received and paid out and received by your charity during the financial year. Also, you must provide a statement detailing your assets and liabilities at the year end.

All charitable companies and non-company charities with a gross income exceeding £250,000, must prepare financial accounts on the accruals basis, in accordance with the Charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP). You will have to complete a statement detailing
your financial activities (with explanations) and a balance sheet. This information is needed to provide a ‘true and fair view’.

Choosing an accountant who knows which elements of legislation affect your charity gives you confidence that your accounts will be handled correctly, in a timely manner. In addition, hiring an accountant with expertise in digital accountancy ensures that your records will be kept efficiently, in the right way. This will speed up the accounting process and reduce its cost going forward.


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Auditing and Independent Examinations

There are legal thresholds governing the independent scrutiny that is required for the accounts of charities.


 If the gross income for your charity falls between £25,000 to £1,000,000, its accounts will have to be independently examined. If your income exceeds £1,000,000, its accounts will have to be audited. An audit is also required if the total assets of your charity (excluding liabilities) are worth more than £3,260,000, and its gross income exceeds £250,000.

Sometimes, the accounts of charities whose gross income falls below the £25,000 threshold have to be scrutinised externally. This depends on what the governing documents for these organisations stipulate.

Accounting Services For Charities From David Howard

Hiring an accountant who can carry out the checks described in this guide is vital to ensure the long-term growth of your charity. Accountants who understand this entire process will be able to assist you with record keeping, accounts and bookkeeping. This way, you will comply with all applicable regulations and have a strong operational foundation to spend and receive money on behalf of your charity.


David Howard provides a full range of accountancybookkeeping and payroll services for charities, along with professional guidance. Our services are affordable and designed to offer value for the best price possible. This makes us ideal for organisations with limited budgets.

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Don't wait -  take advantage of this free consultation today!  Contact us to schedule your appointment and take a step towards a brighter financial future for your charity.

Our team has extensive experience working with charities of all sizes and across various causes. We understand the challenges you face, and we're committed to providing you with the guidance and support you need to ensure your charity's long-term sustainability.