Private schools granted charity rules judicial review

Eton College

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Private schools in England and Wales seeking to clarify the conditions under which they can have charitable status have been granted a judicial review.

The schools say the Charity Commission's interpretation of the law, which says schools must show "public benefit", is too narrow.

The Independent Schools Council says the Commission puts too much emphasis on bursaries for poor pupils.

The loss of charitable status threatens tax benefits for independent schools.

The schools say they offer wider benefits, such as sharing facilities or expertise with state schools.

But critics argue that allowing them to have charitable status can amount to a situation where taxpapers subsidise the education of those from privileged backgrounds.

The ISC said the judicial review would be heard at the Charities Tribunal, which the attorney general asked last week to clarify the law, in a separate legal process.

The schools body, which represents 1,260 institutions across the UK, began seeking a judicial review last year, when two schools were told they had to make changes in order to maintain their status as charities.

ISC deputy chief executive Matthew Burgess said: "Our schools have had to wait a long time, but the court has finally confirmed today that ISC's central contention - that the Charity Commission's guidance on public benefit is legally flawed - is robust and should receive a full hearing."

The Charity Commission said: "This hearing was about whether the ISC's claim for judicial review should be conducted alongside the Attorney General's reference. The court decided that it should.

"In preparing all our guidance on public benefit, the Commission was at all times diligent in consulting charities and others affected, and in making clear the process we had followed. We set out our legal reasoning clearly and carefully alongside our guidance. We stand by our approach and the legal analysis which underpins it, and we are confident that the Commission has acted reasonably and followed due process."

'Delighted'

The Charities Tribunal's main role is to rule on specific disputes between charities and the Commission, which covers England and Wales.

But last week, for the first time, Attorney General Dominic Grieve asked it to review the interpretation of the law more generally.

In response, the Charity Commission said the referral to the tribunal was the "appropriate" way to proceed, and would cover similar ground to a judicial review.

"In preparing all our guidance on public benefit, the Commission was at all times diligent in consulting charities and others affected, and in making clear the process we had followed," it said.

"We stand by our approach and the legal analysis which underpins it, and we are confident that the Commission has acted reasonably and followed due process," it added.

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