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What should be included in a charity's annual return?


Every registered charity has to put together their Annual Report and Accounts to be submitted to the Charity Commission. For some organisations, putting this together feels like a lot of hard work with little reward. But it is much more than this.

Rather than a chore that serves nothing but a legal purpose, an annual report is an opportunity to showcase your successes and achievements over the past year in one document. It can work to demonstrate your impact and value to a wide range of audiences.

What is included?

Your trustees’ annual report helps people understand what your charity does, particularly potential funders and beneficiaries and you should consider who your stakeholders are before you start to write the report

You need to write a trustees’ annual report if your charity is registered in England or Wales. Along with your accounts, the report tells people:

  • about your charity’s work
  • where your money comes from
  • how you’ve spent your money in the past year

When to submit your annual return

You must submit your annual return within 10 months of the end of your financial year.

For example, if your financial year end was 31 March 2020, your deadline is 31 January 2021.

Charities that are due to submit an annual return imminently, but feel unable to do so, can email to ask for a filing extension.

Income under £10,000

You only need to report your income and spending.

You need to log in to the Charity Commissions digital services and select 'annual return'

Income between £10,000 and £25,000

You need to report your income and spending as above and you will also be asked to answer questions on your charity, you may be asked about:

  • Income and spending
  • Raising funds from the public
  • Using professional fundraisers
  • Making grants
  • Income from contracts
  • Income from grants
  • Income from outside the UK
  • Risk management
  • Trading subsidiaries
  • Trustees remuneration
  • Staff salary bands
  • Number of volunteers
  • Financial controls

Income over £25000

As above you will need to answer questions about your charity but you will also be asked about any serious incident reporting.  A serious incident is an adverse event, actial or alleged which results in or risks significant:

  • harm to your charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with your charity through its work (who are collectively referred to throughout this guidance as people who come into contact with your charity through its work)
  • loss of your charity’s money or assets
  • damage to your charity’s property
  • harm to your charity’s work or reputation

The responsibility for reporting serious incidents rests with the charity’s trustees.

In addition you need to get your accounts checked and provide copies of

  • trustee annual report
  • accounts
  • independent examiners report

You will need a full audit if you have:

  • income over £1 million 
  • gross assets over £3.26 million and income over £250,000

Type of Accounts to Prepare

There are two forms of accounting:

  • receipts and payments
  • accruals

The type of accounts required depends on the charity’s income and whether or not it is a company.

More information on the type of accounts to prepare is held on this blog post about independent examination.

The Charity Commission also offer a helpful tool which asks about your charity's structure and turnover and gives advice of the type of accounts to prepare.