Charity Commission reveals public benefit test guinea pigs

The commission has announced a list of 12 voluntary sector organisations that will be the first to be subjected to tests to determine whether they operate for the public benefit.

The tests will focus on religious charities, fee-charging residential care homes and fee-charging schools.

Among the charities that will be tested are Christian charity the Church Mission Society and the Manchester Grammar School Foundation.

The charities were selected for testing because their activities were presumed to be for the public benefit before rule changes made as a result of the Charities Act 2006.

The commission said it wanted a group of charities that were "different in character" and had a variety of income levels.

Adrian White, director of finance and corporate services at the Church Mission Society, said: "The advancement of religion as a public benefit is a hot topic but we have no doubt that we will pass the test."

Christopher Ray, high master at Manchester Grammar School, said: "MGS has been determined to ensure the widest possible public benefit, not least through our means-tested bursary scheme, which benefits more than 240 boys from poorer families. We look forward to working with members of the commission."

The full list of charities that will be subject to the test is: United Christian Broadcasters; London Sri Murugan Temple; Tara Mahayana Buddhist Centre; Church Mission Society; Cornwall Old People's Housing Society; Penylan House, Jewish Retirement and Nursing Home; Rest Bay Convalescent Hotel; the Manchester Grammar School Foundation; Manor House School Trust; Pangbourne College; Anselm's School Trust and Highfield Priory School.

The Charity Commission has also published summaries of the responses to consultations on its public benefit guidance relating to fee-charging, the advancement of religion, the relief of poverty and the advancement of education.

Respondents to the consultation on the commission's draft guidance on public benefit and fee-charging – including the Charity Law Association and the Independent Schools Council – questioned the legal grounds for the guidance.

A commission statement said: "Significant challenges were made in a number of responses to the legal basis of our fee-charging guidance - those responses question the correctness of our interpretation of the relevant case law and the effect of the Charities Act on the existing legal position."

It added that, in particular, respondents doubted whether the commission should produce guidance on fee-charging because it is "not linked to any particular charitable purpose".

Respondents also argued that fee charging had "no bearing on public benefit".

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