The UK Charity Commission has today confirmed its decision to refuse Scientology tax exempt status cannot now be appealed, upholding its view that “the Church of Scientology is not established for the public benefit“
Following a Freedom of Information Act request made by Scientology Business, the Charity Commission explained that due to a statute of limitations, it’s decision to deny Scientology tax exemption is now final and unalterable. It explains:
“In 1999, any appeal to the Commission’s decision to refuse to register the Church of Scientology would be to the High Court. The time frames for appeal would have been set out in the Civil Procedural Rules applicable at that time and is usually between two and ten years depending on the type of claim.”
“Since the Charities Act 2006 came into force, an appeal against a registration decision can now be made to the First Tier Tribunal (Charity). A person wishing to appeal a decision of the Commission has a time limit of 42 days for appeals to the Commission regarding registration decisions.”
“The Commission’s decision in 1999 to refuse to register the Church of Scientology cannot now be appealed” they confirmed, and a new application for registration would need to be made.
In the United Kingdom, the legal test for whether an organisation can be considered for tax exemption is based on whether it is established exclusively for the public benefit. The Charity Commission considers all applications for charity status and in 1999 ruled Scientology’s practices were not “accessible” and could not be “applied such that the moral and spiritual welfare or improvement of the community might result”
Citing “the relative newness of Scientology” and the “judicial and public concerns which had been expressed about its beliefs and practices”, the Commission decided “it could not be concluded that the benefits of the practice of Scientology extended beyond the participants” and thus, public benefit could not be established.
In today’s response to our Freedom of Information Act Request, the Charity Commission confirms that it is now not possible to overturn the previous ruling. Scientology would be required to submit a new application for charity status and it would be required to evidence a clear public benefit in line with guidelines set out by the government.
The average time to register a successful application is 46 working days, according to the Commission, but “where applications are initially assessed as charitable, they are registered in an average of 3 working days.” In the case of Scientology, it is likely the review period would be extended as the Commissioners would need to consider it’s earlier decision, any new additional evidence and recent rulings such as their 2013 religious wedding ceremonies victory and the 2023 tax case in which its buildings were given partial rates relief.
Today’s statement confirms Scientology have not yet made a new application and there have been no communications between the Charity Commission and the Church of Scientology since 1999. However, with pressure mounting in Greece and a movement emerging in the US calling for the IRS to revoke it’s tax-exemption, the importance of UK recognition is growing. It is only a matter of time before Scientology submit a new application for charity status.
You can read the Charity Commission’s response to our Freedom of Information Act Request below.