Charity begins

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I see that the Labour Party has abandoned its plan to remove charity status from independent schools.  This is not because of a Damascene change of heart, but because it has discovered that a change in the statutory definition of “charity” would be necessary.  This, it seems, and who could have guessed it, might have implications for the whole charity sector.  Given that the party is stuffed full of lawyers, this took a long time.  It also suggests a loss of institutional memory about the problems caused when Labour introduced the 2006 Charities Act which was subsequently used by the Charity Commission to hold independent schools to charitable account through a public benefit test.  The Wikipedia page of Suzi Leather (Charity Commission Chair at the time) has the details.  No wonder they have decided not to go down that road again.

The plan remains, however, to add vat to independent school fees.  This will be "more straightforward" than changing the definition of charity we're told.  The Times quotes a Labour spokesman [sic]: “Our policy remains. We will remove the unfair tax breaks that private schools benefit from, to fund desperately needed teachers and mental health counselling in every secondary school."  If that is, they can get the money out of the Treasury which is atavistically agin hypothecated taxes.

But will this be straightforward?  The Times quoted a Conservative source: “Education provision is exempt from VAT, and any law change will lead to a ton of unintended consequences for other teaching providers. Labour have got themselves into a right mess here.”  Quite possibly.

The pity, from my perspective, is that all this is a missed opportunity to further encourage independent schools live up to their charitable status by providing tangible community benefits.  I'm aware that many do this, and some do it very well indeed.  Not all, however, ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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