This is an idiot's guide to one of the most controversial advantages that the Church of Scientology (in the form of COSRECI) has in the UK. That is the 80% mandatory business rates relief granted to them by the City of London Corporation (CoL), in October 2006, for their "Ideal Org" on 146 Queen Victoria Street. This mandatory business rates relief saves them 270K GBP per year and this is paid for by everybody in the UK. Effectively, the CoL has forced everybody in the UK to sponsor what many regard as a "cult".

COSRECI had applied twice to the CoL for mandatory rates relief and been turned down so COSRECI hired a legal team to argue their case and then they were accepted by the CoL. Mandatory rates relief is given to charities. A religion can be regarded as a charity (it is referred to in legal circles as the "third head of charity"). However, "public benefit" is an essential part of being a charity. This was clarified by the Charities Act 2006 which became law shortly after the CoL decided to grant mandatory rates relief. However, "public benefit" had to be present, in any case, before this Act became law.

For the CoL to grant mandatory rates relief then they would have accepted that Scientology is a religion but they may not have been aware that it would have to be "for the public benefit" to receive this rates relief. It is possible they just assumed that because it was a religion then it must be for the public benefit. Their decision cuts across the decision of the Charity Commision (CC) in 1999 that refused charitable status to the newly created "Church of Scientology (England and Wales)" (CoSEW). The CC took a full three years to come to their decision. They carefully considered the arguments for charitable status put forward and consulted case law to decide whether CoSEW was a religion (the third head of charity) or whether it was for the help of the community (the fourth head of charity) and whether "public benefit" was present in either case. They concluded that Scientology was not a religion and that it was not for the help of the community and that public benefit had not been demonstrated in either case. The CC judged CoSEW on the actual activites of COSRECI as they were controlling the Church of Scientology in the UK at that time so the CC would have similarly refused charitable status for COSRECI had they applied.

Since the decision by the CC in 1999 it has become illegal to discriminate against a religion if that religion is a philosophy and does not contain worship of a God. The legal team hired by COSRECI used that as an argument to persuade the CoL to grant them a mandatory rates relief and it worked. However, the CoL seemed to be unaware that "public benefit" needed to be apparent and unaware that the CC had rejected the CoSEW also on the basis of unproven public benefit quite separately to it being a religion. This was perhaps an understandable mistake and is partly why the Charities Act 2006 was created to clarify the definition of a charity to stress that "public benefit" is a requirement. So the CoL might have made an honest mistake at that time but when the Charities Act 2006 became law later that year then they should have revisited their decision and closely considered the "public benefit" aspect in line with the new law and also the statutory guidelines issued by the CC on what constitutes "public benefit". They did not do this so COSRECI continues to receive a rebate of 270K GBP per year paid for by the public.

A campaign is on to get the CoL to fully explain the reasoning behind their decision using Freedom Of Information Act requests but they have not been very forthcoming in their responses. It has reached the stage where a Judicial Review might be required to find out exactly how they came to this conclusion and to maybe get this decision overturned by a judge.

Roland Rashleigh-Berry

The long and difficult to read document about this is here:

The full text of the CC's decision to reject charitable status is here:

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