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Public benefit?

20 October 2011

A recent landmark ruling in the Upper Tribunal between the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Charity Commission is likely to see wide-ranging implications for fee paying schools. The tribunal determined that the commission's guidance was ambiguous and, in places, wrong in law and would need to be re-written.

The decision clarified that independent schools have to demonstrate a wider public benefit and it is the responsibility of the trustees to decide how to satisfy that test. This will allow trustees to be innovative and creative with their charitable provision rather than being constrained by calculations of bursaries. Interestingly, the sponsorship of academies (or indeed creation of a free school) was one route which an independent school could take to further demonstrate satisfaction of the public benefit test. Given that "free schools" were mentioned in the original charity legislation in 1601, it would appear that charity law has come home!

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