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Unincorporated Associations and Clubs

There are a very large number of unincorporated associations in existence in Scotland. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) estimated in March 2008 that there are approximately 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland, the majority of which are unincorporated associations. Such associations exist in a wide range of sizes and structures, ranging from small local playgroups to sports or golf clubs.

The objects and purposes of non-profit making unincorporated associations also cover a very wide range, from purely charitable purposes at one end to purely member-interested purposes at the other. Within that range are a large number of associations which are not registered as charities but which are established for public benefit purposes and which belong, with charities, to what is often referred to as the "third sector".

In addition to charities and associations established for public benefit, there are a large number of unincorporated associations (many of which are not included in the figure of 45,000 mentioned above) which may be described as "member- interest" associations. These are mainly local clubs and societies created with a view to bringing benefits to their members other than the making of business profits. Obviously examples of sports and social clubs, working men's clubs and "single issue" pressure groups. Although such clubs and societies are unlikely to be able to register as charities and are not normally eligible for membership of SCVO, they share the common characteristics of having defined, non-profit making objects but no separate legal personality.

Scotland shares with the other parts of the United Kingdom a law of unincorporated associations which rests upon common law and has been little developed by statute. Its most striking feature is the absence of legal personality accorded to associations and clubs which do not choose to establish themselves as companies or as some other form of unincorporated body. Put shortly, the current law does not recognise the existence of such organisations as separate legal entities.

The Scottish Law Commission (SLC) recently carried out a project in to the law of unincorporated associations. That project resulted in the Scotland Office issuing a consultation on the proposals contained in the SLC Report.