The controversial Church of Scientology has been granted a subsidy of more than £270,000 a year in public money, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Scientology‘s lawyers used European rulings and Government equality regulations to force the City of London corporation to grant an 80 per cent rates discount for its new centre near St Paul’s Cathedral. The “church”, it is believed, is now pressing to pay nothing at all.
The corporation confirmed that this discount was on the basis that Scientology is a “charity”, despite the fact that the Charity Commission has refused to register it. The discount, referred to as a “mandatory rate relief”, has been granted even though the Church of Scientology has estimated global assets of $398 million (£203 million), is supported by film stars including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and was once described as “corrupt, sinister and dangerous” by a High Court judge.
– Justice Latey, ruling in the High Court of London
The Scientologists’ £10 million, Grade II-listed London centre would normally have incurred £343,045 in non-domestic rates; the organisation has, however, secured a £274,436-a-year subsidy.
City of London sources emphasised that it twice refused rates relief before relenting under legal pressure. Papers released by the corporation under the Freedom of Information Act state: “Reliance was placed on a European Court of Human Rights decision concerning a challenge by the church against Sweden, which the church drew to our attention.”
Religions can secure rates exemption by proving their buildings are public places of worship, but a City of London official confirmed that the Scientology discount was for charity work, adding, curiously: “A charity does not have to be registered to qualify.”
The Charity Commission refused to register Scientology in 1999, ruling that it “was not established for charitable purposes or public benefit. Scientology is not a religion for English charity law purposes”.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said the Scientologists’ discount was coming solely from business rates in the National Non-Domestic Rates Pool. A spokesman said: “The pool operates so that, taking one year with another, the amount of money collected is redistributed. Any excess or shortfall in one year is therefore balanced in subsequent years.”
David Maddison, a policy consultant at the Local Government Association, said, however: “The general taxpayer is paying because it is a centrally funded relief.” Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This will cost a small fortune. It’s very odd, completely unfair.”
Janet Kenyon-Laveau, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology, said: “All government agencies that actually come to the church conclude we are a religion, charitable and for public benefit.
“Our members are very active in immensely successful literacy, drugs and crime rehabilitation programmes. These, though, do cost.”
The discount will deepen controversy stemming from the opening of the centre in October, when Chief Superintendent Kevin Hurley, of the City of London Police, said that Scientologists were “raising the spiritual wealth of society”.
There is no suggestion that Mr Hurley benefited personally, but it emerged that other City of London Police officers accepted Scientology hospitality, including invitations to the première of Cruise’s film Mission: Impossible III.
Scientology has attracted controversy regularly since L Ron Hubbard, the American science fiction writer, founded it in 1954, teaching that humans are immortal beings with a spiritual side called the “thetan”. It claims to have more than 10 million devotees worldwide, with 123,000 in the UK