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Trustee duties: a reminder for students’ union trustees

21 September 2022

With students’ unions welcoming many new trustees at this time of year, this article is a reminder of what the role entails.


A person must be eligible to be a charity trustee:

  • They must be at least 16 years old to be a trustee of a charity that is a company or CIO, or at least 18 years old to be a trustee of another type of charity.
  • They must be appointed following the procedures in the SU’s governing document. If they are not properly appointed, their decisions or actions may be invalid.
  • A person must not have been disqualified from acting as a charity trustee, for example due to being bankrupt, having an unspent conviction for certain offences, being on the sex offenders’ register or having been disqualified from being a charity trustee by the Charity Commission.  Your SU’s governing document may set out further disqualification criteria, so check it.
  • Trustees should be ‘fit and proper persons’ (HMRC has detailed guidance on this here).  You should ask new trustees to sign a form declaring they are a fit and proper person – you can find a model declaration form here.

Information for new trustees

Once a trustee has been appointed, help them settle into their new role by giving them all the information they need to do their job properly.  This might include:

  • A copy of the SU’s governing document and bye-laws.
  • A copy of the trustee role description, if you have one, including any details of committees which trustees may, or may be expected to, join.
  • Confirmation of their start date and term of office.
  • A copy of the Charity Commission guidance, ‘The Essential Trustee: What you need to know, what you need to do’ (CC3), along with information about any trustee training opportunities which may be be available.
  • The SU’s most recent annual report and accounts, with any accompanying commentary.
  • Information about meeting dates, agendas and timings.
  • Information about the SU’s conflicts of interest policy, including a conflicts of interest declaration form for trustees to sign and return, if you have one.
  • Information about the fit and proper persons test, including a copy of the declaration form for trustees to sign and return.
  • Any other policies and procedures relevant to trustees.

This information might be contained in a welcome letter for new trustees, although you may need to give some of this information to all trustees, on an annual basis.

You might also consider a mentoring programme for new trustees, where they are paired with more experienced members of the board to help them get up to speed.

Trustee duties

Trustees are subject to various duties set out in law and the Charity Commission guidance CC3 acts a useful summary of these.

The six key trustee duties are as follows: 

  • Carry out purposes for the public benefit: trustees must ensure that the SU is carrying out its charitable purposes, as set out in its governing document.  These purposes will almost always involve a requirement to advance the education of students at a particular named university or college. In addition, SU trustees must understand how the charity benefits the public through carrying out its purposes. 
  • Comply with the governing document: trustees should read the governing document (including any bye-laws) and if they have any questions regarding legal requirements to which an SU is subject, they should seek appropriate legal advice. 
  • Act in the SU’s best interests: trustees are required to make informed decisions, which will best enable the charity to carry out its purposes. The personal interests of the trustee should not conflict with their duty to the charity and no benefit should be received by the trustee (or any person connected to the trustee, such as a partner or child) from the SU unless it is properly authorised and is clearly in the charity’s interests. 
  • Manage the SU’s resources responsibly: charity trustees must act responsibly, reasonably and honestly, exercising sound judgment when making decisions and putting in place appropriate safeguards to minimise the SU’s exposure to theft, fraud or other kinds of abuse. 
  • Act with reasonable care and skill: trustees should make use of their specific skills and experience, take appropriate advice when necessary and ensure that they give enough time, thought and energy to their role, preparing for and actively participating in trustee meetings. 
  • Ensure accountability: trustees should ensure the SU complies with statutory accounting and reporting requirements, to demonstrate that the SU is acting within the law, is well run and is accountable to its student members.

We regularly provide training to charities (including SUs) on trustee duties and would be happy to discuss the points covered in this article in more detail.  Please get in touch with Laura Moss if you would like to arrange an appointment.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Laura Moss or any of the Charities and Social Economy team on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Charities team on Twitter.

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors. 




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Laura Moss


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