Detailed guide: Prepare a charity annual return

Updated: Added Welsh translation.

What a charity annual return includes

Before you start, you’ll need:

  • your charity’s online services password, you can request a new password if needed
  • your registered charity number
  • registration numbers for any linked charities (if applicable)

The annual return service for 2016 and 2017 is available.

You will need to submit your annual return for 2016 before you can do the return for 2017.

There will be a high demand for this service. We advise using it outside peak hours (10am to 3pm) to avoid any problems logging in.

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. Charitable incorporated organisations (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 annual return form.

Serious incident reports

If your charity’s income is over £25,000, make sure you have reported all serious incidents to the Commission before you submit your charity’s annual return.

As part of the annual return you will need to declare that there are no serious incidents or other matters that trustees should have reported to the Commission but have not done so.

If you are not sure what a serious incident is or whether you should have reported it, please read the guidance on reporting serious incidents.

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 Charitable incorporated organisations (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 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

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.

If you don’t submit your annual return it may be viewed as an indication that the charity is no longer operating, or doesn’t exist. If we find that a registered charity no longer operates or exists, we may remove it from the register of charities.

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.

Charity annual returns and the register

Over 6 million people search the charity register 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.

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