Compliance matters, because we should all be trying to get things right.
Rules and a collective responsibility
The word "compliance" in the legal field refers to the situation where an individual or a group obeys a set of rules or regulations determined by the law or any governing body. Nowadays, congregations are subject to what seem to be – and indeed are – ever increasing numbers of regulatory rules, due to the wider range of activities and projects congregations are getting involved in.
As charity trustees, office bearers have to be aware of the rules and work together to put in place appropriate policies and procedures in order to avoid or at least minimise the chance of the congregation finding itself on the wrong end of the law; they have a collective responsibility to make sure this is done.
Getting it right
The list of things that office bearers have to be aware of and comply with will vary from congregation to congregation, depending on the range of activities making up the life of the congregation. The list will always include the legal rules connected with charity law, data protection, health and safety, safeguarding, and food safety. These rules are complex, with the real risk of some form of penalty for breach. They have been put in place by Parliament for a reason, namely to protect the public in some way against physical or financial harm.
It is important to remember that, as office bearers, they are not expected to have a detailed knowledge of the legislation. They simply need to have an awareness of it and to ensure, via monitoring and checks, that at least one of the fellow office bearers is taking responsibility for compliance in each area relevant to the congregation.
Other legal obligations
As office bearers, they need to be satisfied that the congregation is also meeting its contractual and financial responsibilities. This might include the conditions contained in leases relating to property, which the congregation is letting out, or has taken on lease, or conditions attaching to a gift or legacy. They need to comply with the terms of other contracts (e.g. for photocopiers, leased vehicles, etc.). On the financial side, as well as getting accounts and reports in proper form lodged with the charity regulator, gift aid claims need to be correctly administered. If the congregation employs staff, PAYE and National Insurance and auto enrolment for pensions and contracts of employment will all be important areas to get right.
Further reading and resources
- Various circulars on the main areas of compliance risk for congregations can be found on the Law Department section of the Church of Scotland website
- CASS Business School - City University London - Compliance - Tools for success: doing the right things and doing them right
- Health and Safety Executive
- Information Commissioner