The Church of Scientology has been testing the limits of business rate exemptions in its latest appeal at the ValuationTribunal for England (VTE)
The religious group was trying to get its Religious Education College Inc. classed as a place of worship and then seek business rate exemptions under Paragraph 11 of Schedule 5 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.
The VTE President heard three appeals relating to premises in Tottenham Court Road and Queen Victoria Street in London and Deansgate, Manchester.
The disputed issues were:
1. Did the appeal properties comprise chapels which were places of public religious worship?
2. If so, did the identified rooms qualify as similar buildings to a church hall?
Without prejudice to the above, did the identified office areas qualify for exemption?
The VTE President found against the Church in that none of the appeal buildings were places of public religious worship. He ascertained that from a physical viewpoint none of the buildings would give the ordinary passer-by the impression that they were places of public worship. In addition, there was no regular visible signage or advertisement of religious ceremonies to which ordinary members of the public could attend. He concluded the invitation test for places of religious worship wasn’t met.
As the appeal properties did not qualify for exemption under paragraph 11(1), the VTE President then considered the argument that the premises used as offices qualified for exemption under paragraph 11(2).
Here, an hereditament would only be exempt if it was occupied by an organisation responsible for the conduct of public religious worship falling within paragraph 1(a); the President determined that mere office use didn’t qualify for such an exemption.
The office use had to be in connection with the place of religious worship. As the appeal properties were not places of public religious worship, the offices could’t qualify for exemption simply because the Church of Scientology had other buildings elsewhere in the county that qualified for exemption. In the cases under consideration, there was no evidence to show that the offices were used for similar administrative functions that took place in a church back office. Instead, the evidence showed that some of the offices were used for auditing to rid persons of negative influences or behaviours.
The appeal was dismissed and can be read in full here: Valuation Tribunals (valuation-tribunals.gov.uk)