Private schools challenge charity rules


17 May 2011

by Stephen Gregory

Private schools in England and Wales are set to mount a challenge against stringent rules on qualification for charitable status.

The Independent Schools Council believes requirements to demonstrate how schools offer “public benefit” are too strict. It has voiced fears that if too many bursaries are awarded to poorer students, the rise in fees for others could leave some families priced out.

The schools are keen to cling on to their charitable status for the tax benefits it brings, the value of which is estimated at £100m.

A judicial review will take place at a charity tribunal overseen by Attorney General Dominic Grieve. This hearing will get under way today.

As a result of the Charities Act of 2006, independent schools no longer have an automatic entitlement to charitable status. Instead it is mandatory for them to show that they benefit the wider public beyond the pupils who pay to go there.

The ISC has criticised the Charity Commission guidelines for focusing too much on bursaries in implementing this. It believes that schools should have a wider range of options with regard to fulfilling this criterion, such as sharing sports facilities and forming relationships with state schools.

The Charity Commission, however, argues that this is not the case and that it takes a number of factors into consideration, and grants schools ample time to come in line with the regulations.

Lord Hodgson explained the importance of this review when speaking in the House of Lords earlier in the month. He said: "The decisions made in those proceedings will affect not just fee-paying independent schools but potentially all fee-charging charities.

"It has a very substantial possibility of changing the sector."

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