BRITAIN'S Charity Commission has the important job of ensuring that organisations which label themselves as “charities” are indeed performing charitable activities. Last week the Commission produced its first report in which it looked at the “charitable status” which many of Britain's independent private schools claim and, in doing so, save an estimated 120 million pounds a year which they pass on to parents in reduced fees. The Commission examined what charitable activity these schools undertake in order to justify their special status. In most cases what is called the “public benefit” takes the form of bursaries which enable children whose parents would not be able to pay the full fees of the school to take advantage of the education the school provides. Of the twelve schools inspected by the Commission four failed to show that they were offering a sufficient number of opportunities to non-fee paying children; these schools may therefore lose their “charitable status”. Now the Charity Commission is in trouble for doing its job. The accusation against it is that it is being used by the Labour government to make education at private schools more expensive by removing their charitable status which some have enjoyed for 400 years. One leading article over the weekend even said that this was “a settling of old scores”. A more rational view would be that private organisations claiming to be charities should be able to show how that special status benefits the general public as well as the children of fee-paying parents.


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