After being challenged by The Independent Schools Council (ISC), the “public benefit” requirements that dictate private schools charitable status – that includes a provision for free places for poor students – has been scrapped in a landmark court ruling, writes Graeme Paton at the Telegraph.
The UK’s highest tribunal court ruled that the requirements dictated to independent schools to justify their charitable status were “wrong” and “obscure”, and now the Charity Commission must drop or alter significant parts of its guidance within 21 days, or face having it scrapped altogether.
The Independent Schools Council clashed with the Charity Commission over its requirements for schools to provide wider “public benefit” to justify their keeping of millions of pounds in tax breaks. But ISC deemed the measures illegal – claiming that offering free and subsidized places to poor pupils represented the most straightforward way of passing the test, yet drive up fees for existing parents and price some families out of independent education altogether.
And now the Upper Tribunal has agreed. After the ruling, the Charity Commission said it had agreed “voluntarily to withdraw those limited parts of our guidance”.
Matthew Burgess, ISC general secretary, said:
“We were vindicated when the tribunal agreed with us that the commission’s approach to the public benefit of independent schools was wrong. Since then, however, the commission has been busy trying to rewrite history when it should have been rewriting its guidance.
“We trust that this ruling will now persuade the commission to discharge its duty to hundreds of thousands of charity trustees to produce clear and accurate guidance.”
In a statement, the commission responded:
“We have received the Upper Tribunal’s decision and, in accordance with this, will be agreeing voluntarily to withdraw those limited parts of our guidance identified by the tribunal found not to be correct.
“We will do this as part of part of our review of the guidance, which we said we carry out regardless of the outcome of this case, and is already in hand.
“It remains, in accordance with the Upper Tribunal’s judgment, that fee-charging schools cannot be charitable if they exclude the poor from benefit and, if established as charities, have to make provision for those who cannot afford the fees which is more than minimal or tokenistic.”