Communities secretary Eric Pickles says majority of the public does not want ‘controversial organisation’ to be given favourable treatment
The government is urging councils across the country to stop giving hundreds of thousands of pounds in tax breaks to the Church of Scientology.
The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, said a majority of the public did not want the “controversial organisation” to be given the kind of favourable treatment usually reserved for charities and questioned this use of public money.
The church, which is not classed as a religion by the Charity Commission, was described as a cult by a high court judge in 1984.
It is the first time a cabinet minister has intervened in the long-running row over the tax breaks for Scientology.
At least four authorities have given tax breaks to the group, which counts a host of celebrities among its high-profile members.
In a statement to the Guardian, Pickles said he could not see why Scientology was being given privileged treatment by councils.
“Tolerance and freedom of expression are important British values, but this does not mean that the likes of Church of Scientology deserve favoured tax treatment over and above other business premises,” he said.
“The Church of Scientology is not a registered charity, since the Charity Commission has ruled that it does not provide a public benefit. Nor are its premises a recognised place of worship.
“Councils may award charitable relief. They should take into consideration the Charity Commission’s rulings when weighing up whether to do so.
“I do not believe the majority of the public would want their own council to be giving special tax breaks to such a controversial organisation.”
According to the official Scientology website, the group has at least nine other centres in Britain. The Valuation Office Agency, the agency of Revenue and Customs that assesses business rate valuations, does not regard the Church of Scientology as a recognised religion.
The Charity Commission ruled, in 1999, that the church did not pass the “public benefit” test required for advancing religion as a charitable purpose.
A spokesman said Pickles’ comment appeared to refer to an old decision by the Charity Commission before new guidelines were issued.