Scientology rates relief (Birmingham)

William Thackeray made this Freedom of Information request to Birmingham City Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

In respect of the following property:

8 Ethel Street
Birmingham
B2 4BG

please provide details of any mandatory or discretionary relief from non-domestic rates which has been applied at any time over the past 5 years.

If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief.

Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Birmingham City Council

Dear Mr Thackeray

Further to your request below regarding 8 Ethel Street, can you please
specify to which rating assessment you wish to receive information about.

regards

Corporate Information Governance Team


William Thackeray
<request-32771-71
899970@whatdothey To
know.com> FOI requests at Birmingham City
Council
15/04/2010 11:16 <[Birmingham City Council request email]>
cc

Subject
Freedom of Information request -
Scientology rates relief
(Birmingham)





Dear Birmingham City Council,

In respect of the following property:

8 Ethel Street
Birmingham
B2 4BG

please provide details of any mandatory or discretionary relief
from non-domestic rates which has been applied at any time over the
past 5 years.

If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support
of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief.

Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

show quoted sections

Birmingham City Council

Dear Mr Thackeray

Further to your request for information regarding:

In respect of the following property:

8 Ethel Street
Birmingham
B2 4BG

please provide details of any mandatory or discretionary relief
from non-domestic rates which has been applied at any time over the
past 5 years.

We can confirm that, in relation to the property at 8 Ethel St, The Church
of Scientology Religious Education College Inc. (although we cannot provide
the name of the occupier) has been in receipt of 80% discretionary relief
as it fits the council's current policy for discretionary rate relief under
Section 47 of the local Government Finance Act 1988. This relief has been
awarded throughout the period of the request.

If you are not satisfied with the response you may ask for an internal
review please contact the corporate team at the address below:

Corporate Information Governance Team
1st Floor, 1 Lancaster Circus
Birmingham
B4 7AB
or
[email address]

If subsequently you are not satisfied with the Council’s decision you may
apply to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the ICO
cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure
provided by the Council. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at
the following address:

The Information Commissioner
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Telephone: 01625 545745
Web Address: www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely

Corporate Information Governance Team

Re use of Public Sector Information

The information provided is subject to Birmingham City Council copyright,
however, it may be re-used for personal, educational or non-commercial
purposes without further reference to the City Council. If the re-use is
for other purposes, such as commercial re-use, you should notify the City
Council in writing to seek approval or agree terms for re-use. Where
Birmingham City Council does not hold the copyright, it has indicated the
copyright holder. Permission for re-use should be sought from them
directly.

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

Many thanks for your remarkably quick response to my FOI request!

Yes, that is the information I was looking for - many thanks.

May I refer you to the second part of my request, which stated:

"If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support
of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief."

I'd be grateful if you would address that part of my request.

As far as 'reasons behind the decision' are concerned, I refer to page 24 of "The Judge Over Your Shoulder" (published by the Treasury Solicitors Office) entitled 'Giving Reasons', which at para 2.66 gives the following as an outline of the way reasons should be recorded and presented:

"the record should be clear about what the applicant is applying for and that you understand the
application;
- it should set out material findings of fact;
- it should show that all relevant matters have been considered and that no irrelevant ones have
been taken into account;
- it should cite and apply any relevant policy statements or guidance;
- it should note any representations or consultation responses as having been considered and taken
into account.
- It should show by what process of reasoning issues were resolved, and how the various factors
were weighed against each other."

I would be grateful if you would provide reasons for the decision on that or a similar basis.

My thanks again for your very speedy response to this FOI request.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Birmingham City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Thackeray

Further to your query please see below the response from the service area.

The council awards discretionary rate relief in accordance with Section 47
of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Within that specific section of
the act councils are encouraged to make awards organisations based on the
closed extract of our current policy. The organisation in question meets
one or more of the criteria. As previously advised the policy is now under
review, and the level of the award may be varied from 1 April 2011. All
current applicants have been advised of the planned review of the policy,
and that their entitlement may be removed or reduced from 1 April 2011.
(Embedded image moved to file: pic26422.jpg)
If you would like to discuss this matter further please contact the Manager
responsible for this area of the City Council's work on the details below

Paul Duffy
Account Management Manager
Revenues
0121 464 4523

regards

Corporate Information Governance Team


William Thackeray
<request-32771-71
899970@whatdothey To
know.com> [email address]
cc
15/04/2010 14:53
Subject
Re: Freedom of Information Request





Dear Birmingham City Council,

Many thanks for your remarkably quick response to my FOI request!

Yes, that is the information I was looking for - many thanks.

May I refer you to the second part of my request, which stated:

"If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support
of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief."

I'd be grateful if you would address that part of my request.

As far as 'reasons behind the decision' are concerned, I refer to
page 24 of "The Judge Over Your Shoulder" (published by the
Treasury Solicitors Office) entitled 'Giving Reasons', which at
para 2.66 gives the following as an outline of the way reasons
should be recorded and presented:

"the record should be clear about what the applicant is applying
for and that you understand the
application;
- it should set out material findings of fact;
- it should show that all relevant matters have been considered and
that no irrelevant ones have
been taken into account;
- it should cite and apply any relevant policy statements or
guidance;
- it should note any representations or consultation responses as
having been considered and taken
into account.
- It should show by what process of reasoning issues were resolved,
and how the various factors
were weighed against each other."

I would be grateful if you would provide reasons for the decision
on that or a similar basis.

My thanks again for your very speedy response to this FOI request.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

Thank you again for getting back to me so quickly! I very much appreciate it.

I would like to know more detail about the reasons for the decision, so I would be grateful if you would forward this email to your colleague Paul and ask him to get back to me by email.

Thank you again for your - highly efficient - assistance in this matter.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Paul Duffy, Birmingham City Council

Mr Thackery,

Can you kindly provide a telephone number to discuss this at some point
next week.

I believe we have fulfilled our responsibility in regards to your FOI
request, however you clearly would like to discuss the decision further,
and therefore we need to discuss this in person by telephone.
Many thanks

Paul Duffy
Account Management Manager
Revenues
0121 464 4523

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Paul,

Many thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

I'd prefer to discuss it by email, if that's OK with you.

Essentially I'm looking for a response to the second part of my FOI request - I've copied details below.

Thank you again for your assistance with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

----

From an earlier email:

May I refer you to the second part of my request, which stated:

"If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support
of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief."

I'd be grateful if you would address that part of my request.

As far as 'reasons behind the decision' are concerned, I refer to
page 24 of "The Judge Over Your Shoulder" (published by the
Treasury Solicitors Office) entitled 'Giving Reasons', which at
para 2.66 gives the following as an outline of the way reasons
should be recorded and presented:

"the record should be clear about what the applicant is applying
for and that you understand the
application;
- it should set out material findings of fact;
- it should show that all relevant matters have been considered and
that no irrelevant ones have
been taken into account;
- it should cite and apply any relevant policy statements or
guidance;
- it should note any representations or consultation responses as
having been considered and taken
into account.
- It should show by what process of reasoning issues were resolved,
and how the various factors
were weighed against each other."

I would be grateful if you would provide reasons for the decision
on that or a similar basis.

Paul Duffy, Birmingham City Council

Mr Thackaray,

I'm sorry that you do not agree that a direct conversation would be the
best way to discuss your request, however I must advise that I believe
that we have responded as fully as we can within the Freedom of
Information Act without contravening the Data Protection Act.

Specific decisions in respect of personal information provided by the
resident organisation cannot be divulged to parties who do not carry
authorisation from the organisation itself.

If you wish to discuss our interpretation of both acts please do not
hesitate to call me on the number stated below.
Many thanks

Paul Duffy
Account Management Manager
Revenues
0121 464 4523

William Thackeray To Paul Duffy
<[FOI #32771 email]> <[email address]>
cc
16/04/2010 14:21 Subject Re: Fw: Freedom of Information
Request

Dear Paul,

Many thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

I'd prefer to discuss it by email, if that's OK with you.

Essentially I'm looking for a response to the second part of my FOI
request - I've copied details below.

Thank you again for your assistance with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

----

From an earlier email:

May I refer you to the second part of my request, which stated:

"If such relief has been applied, please provide:

- a copy of the application and all documents supplied in support
of it.

- the reasons behind the Council's decision to apply the relief."

I'd be grateful if you would address that part of my request.

As far as 'reasons behind the decision' are concerned, I refer to
page 24 of "The Judge Over Your Shoulder" (published by the
Treasury Solicitors Office) entitled 'Giving Reasons', which at
para 2.66 gives the following as an outline of the way reasons
should be recorded and presented:

"the record should be clear about what the applicant is applying
for and that you understand the
application;
- it should set out material findings of fact;
- it should show that all relevant matters have been considered and
that no irrelevant ones have
been taken into account;
- it should cite and apply any relevant policy statements or
guidance;
- it should note any representations or consultation responses as
having been considered and taken
into account.
- It should show by what process of reasoning issues were resolved,
and how the various factors
were weighed against each other."

I would be grateful if you would provide reasons for the decision
on that or a similar basis.

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Paul,

I disagree with your interpretation of FOIA and the DPA, so I'll be seeking an internal review, but thank you nontheless for your time and attention on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Birmingham City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Scientology rates relief (Birmingham)'.

My reasons for requesting an internal review are:

1. There is a compelling public interest in the release of the disputed information, because BCC has a duty to give reasons for its decisions, and in this case a decision was made, but the information released by BCC is insufficient to explain that decision.

2. Other factors specific to this decision which increase the weight of public interest in disclosure include:

• the complex nature of the decision,

• the fact that the decision appears to directly contradict that of another public authority (the Charities Commission) which has greater expertise in this subject matter,

• the nature of the organisation (COSREC) in whose favour this decision was made,

• the lack of oversight in place for this decision,

• the amount of public money involved,

• the claims of public benefit (if such claims are made; this is part of the disputed information),

• the fact that disclosure will inform public debate.

Was a decision made?

3. BCC made the decision that COSREC did meet the criteria for discretionary relief.

Does BCC have an obligation to give reasons for its decisions?

4. JOYS (‘The Judge Over Your Shoulder’, Treasury Solicitor’s Office, para 2.62) and the Seven Principles Of Public Life (http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/About...) state that ‘in most cases fairness now requires that reasons should be given’, and that public authorities ‘should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands’. It is therefore for BCC to make the case that there is a public interest in the withholding of the reasons behind this decision, rather than for me to make the case that there is a public interest in the disclosure of the reasons behind the decision.

Is the information which BCC has already released sufficient to explain its decision?

5. BCC has not given any reasons for its decision.

Public Interest Arguments

6. The following are factors which increase the weight of public interest in disclosure:

The decision was complex

7. This is shown by the detailed reasoning in the Charity Commissioner’s decision (http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Libr...) not to grant charitable status to COSREC. A substantial and complex body of law is involved.

8. It is legitimate to expect BCC to publish reasoning which at least approaches the level of detail published by the Charity Commission.

The decision contradicts that of the Charity Commission

9. The Charity Commission can reasonably be expected to have more expertise in the area of charity law than BCC. That makes BCC’s decision, which contradicts that of the Charity Commisison, particularly surprising. This provides a legitimate expectation for BCC to publish detailed reasoning explaining their decision.

The nature of the organisation in whose favour the decision was made

10. The anti-social nature of COSREC as an organisation is relevant in two ways:

• It makes BCC’s conclusion that COSREC meets the Heads of Charity appear particularly surprising, and therefore provides an argument for further disclosure of BCC’s reasoning.

• It provides a further public interest (under FOIA) in the disclosure of the disputed information, in that there is a legitimate public interest in the use of taxpayers’ money to subsidise such an organisation, which goes beyond the normal public interest in the application of mandatory relief to other organisations.

11. The Foster Report (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Cowen/audit/f...) explains the nature of Scientology. In summary:

The government is satisfied that Scientology is socially harmful. It alienates members' families from each other and attributes squalid and disgraceful motives to all who oppose it: its authoritarian principles and practice are a potential menace to the personality and well being of those so deluded as to become followers: above all, its methods can be a serious danger to the health of those who submit to them .... There is no power under existing law to prohibit the practice of Scientology: but the government has concluded that it is so objectionable that it would be right to take all steps within its power to curb its growth.

12. As the Foster Report was written some time ago, I have also included more recent evidence which shows that the nature of Scientology has not changed since the Foster Report:

13. In B & G [1985 Fam Law 127], Mr Justice Latey in the Court of Appeal found Scientology to be “corrupt, sinister and dangerous”.

14. A 1982 report to the City Commision of Clearwater (http://www.xenu-directory.net/documents/...) in the USA, where a new Scientology HQ was proposed to be built, found that:

The actual conduct of the Church of Scientology adopted
as written corporate policy, by the Church, includes the following:

• burglary;

• larceny;

• infiltration;

• smear campaigns;

• extortion;

• blackmail;

• frame-ups;

• deceptive sales and recruitment policies;

• deceptive use of legal releases and bonds;

• suppression of free speech and association;

• deviation from acceptable standards of medical practice and educational requirements;

• use of tax exempt funds for unlawful purposes;

• overtly fraudulent policies designed to extract large sums of money from unwitting and uninformed individuals;

• extortionate and/or improper use of highly personal information fraudulently procured from individuals based on false promises of confidentiality;

• the use of unlawful and covertly harassive means to prevent individuals who have been defrauded from obtaining legal redress;

• and the use of overtly fraudulent policies such as the "minister's mock up" and "religious image check sheet" to present a "religious front" to the public while actually engaged in the business of unlicensed psychotherapy for the purpose of making money.

15. The Home Office’s 2003 policy report (http://files.whatdotheyknow.com/request/...) on Scientology, prepared in respect of a planned Judicial Review (filed by COSREC) into that department’s decision not to recognise Scientology as a religion for the purpose of facilitating religious ministry in prisons, observes that:

Serious concerns have been raised about the operation of the Church of Scientology. The practice of charging fees which escalate sharply with the ascending levels of training, often resulting in members incurring large debts, is a source of particular criticism. Some former staff members have also complained about high levels of psychological pressure on them to work excessively hard for little or no payment. Others have said that personal information they disclosed during auditing sessions was later used by the Church to blackmail them. The alleged harassment of former members is also a common complaint and the organisation's hostility to psychiatry has led to complaints of neglect. Some of
these allegations are also made about the activities of other cult organisations. But of the number of complaints and concerns made to the Home Office (and INFORM) about cults, Scientology usually features near the top of the list (thought the actual numbers remain small).

16. A 2003 report (ibid.)to the Home Office from INFORM, a charity based at the London School of Economics, which provides ‘accurate, balanced, up-to-date information about new and/or alternative religious or spiritual movements’, summarises concerns and allegations surrounding Scientology up to that date, including the criminal case relating to the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson. The report observes that:

COS argued that it had a legal right to hold Lisa against her will, deny her access to medical care and contact with family and friends because she was a parishioner and her treatment was a religious practice.

17. In October 2009, Scientology was convicted of fraud in the Paris Criminal court (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8327569.stm). The two main Scientology corporate bodies in France, the ‘Celebrity Centre’ and the Scientology library, were each convicted of fraud as corporate entities (in addition to the conviction of 5 senior employees). So the ‘a few bad apples’ argument cannot apply here, because the organisation itself has been found to have acted fraudulently.

Lack of oversight

18. There is little oversight for the application by local authorities of mandatory or discretionary relief from non-domestic rates, although the discount provided is made up from national taxpayer funds. In the majority of cases, this does not matter because the issue is very cut-and-dried.

19. In most cases, the organisation concerned is a registered charity and so the local authority is not called upon to assess whether the organisation meets the heads of charity, because the Charity Commission has already decided that it does. The local authority must merely check that the organisation is indeed a registered charity.

20. In a minority of cases, an organisation has not registered as a charity but wishes to be considered for mandatory relief because it claims to meet the heads of charity. In this situation, the local authority must assess whether the claims of the organisation are true. Clearly this is a more difficult task than simply checking whether an organisation is a registered charity.

21. In the extremely unusual (perhaps unique) case of COSREC, the organisation had already applied for charitable status and this had been refused. COSREC therefore is likely to have argued that it does meet the Heads of Charity in spite of the Charity Commissioner’s declaration that it does not. This puts forward an even more difficult decision for the local authority, which must:

• determine findings of fact based on information from an organisation (COSREC) which has shown itself ready to submit false and misleading information to government agencies, and

• apply a very complex and substantial body of law to those findings of fact.

22. It is in this situation where the lack of oversight is potentially problematic.

23. BCC’s granting of COSREC’s application for discretionary relief is therefore unlikely to have received any specific scrutiny from BCC’s auditors.

24. This lack of oversight provides a reasonable expectation that BCC will publish the reasoning behind their decision, in the public interest.

Large amount of public money

25. The amount of public money concerned, which is made up out of national taxpayer funds, is approx £50,000 per year.

26. This provides a reasonable expectation that BCC publish the reasoning behind their decision, in the public interest.

Possible claims of public benefit

27. Based on information provided by Westminster City Council in respect of a similar application for mandatory relief made by COSREC regarding a different property, it seems likely that COSREC has made claims that meets the Heads of Charity because it provides public benefit, perhaps with reference to purported drug rehabilitation programmes.

28. If this is the case then:

29. There is no reason why a programme which purports to provide public benefit should be kept secret from the public. Indeed, if the public are to benefit from it then logically it cannot be kept secret from at least that section of the public which takes part in it, and derives benefit from it.

30. The claim of public benefit is therefore a reason in itself for the information relating to that public benefit to be disclosed.

31. If COSREC claims that public benefit is provided through its supposed drug treatment programmes, then the following becomes relevant:

32. Scientology’s supposed drug treatment programmes are undertaken through a registered charity named Narconon.

33. Narconon claims to be entirely separate from COSREC and Scientology (although its drug treatment programme consists largely of the study of Scientology texts, and has been deemed by the Home Office to be ‘not fit for purpose’ as a drug treatment programme).

34. It is important for Narconon’s status as a registered charity that it maintain this claim, because if Narconon were under the control of COSREC then it would likely be deemed a ‘sham charity’, and be deprived of charitable status.

35. If a corporation donates funds to a charity, that does not imply that the corporation is run ‘for charitable purposes only’ and therefore qualifies for mandatory relief from business rates. For example, if IBM donates funds to the Red Cross, that does not mean that IBM meets the Heads of Charity and can get mandatory relief.

36. So if Narconon is indeed entirely separate from COSREC, then any financial support which COSREC gives to Narconon does not make COSREC a charitable organisation in itself.

37. And if Narconon is in fact under the control of COSREC, then this should be reported to the Charity Commissioner, who may wish to re-assess the charitable status of Narconon.

38. If it is the case that COSREC is telling the Charity Commissioner that Narconon is an entirely separate organisation, while claiming to BCC that COSREC is responsible for Narconon’s programmes, then this information ought to be brought to the attention of the Charity Commissioner.

Disclosure will inform public debate

39. There is a degree of public concern about the granting of mandatory and discretionary relief to COSREC by local authorities.

40. The new Equality Bill was passed on 6 April 2010 (in Parliament’s pre-election ‘washup’ period), and comes into force from October 2010. It has given rise to debate in both Houses of Parliament and in the press as to whether its effect will be to give Scientology (which would gain protection under the new Act as a ‘philosophical belief’) the same 100% exemption from non-domestic rates which currently applies to the Church of England. It is therefore in the public interest for the public to be able to ascertain exactly what the current situation is — i.e. to be clear on exactly what grounds BCC awarded discretionary relief to COSREC — in order to be able to come to a proper assessment of the way the Equality Bill changes this situation.

DPA does not apply

41. BCC claims that DPA applies to data supplied by COSREC. This is incorrect; DPA protection applies only to individuals (‘natural persons’), not to corporations such as COSREC.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/sc...

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Birmingham City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Thackeray

Please see the letter for your request for an internal review.

(See attached file: Appeal Letter Mr Thackeray.doc)

Yours sincerely

Corporate Information Governance Team

show quoted sections

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

Many thanks for your fast response on this issue.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

William Thackeray

Dear Birmingham City Council,

In respect of my argument that lack of oversight for this decision creates a reasonable public interest in the disclosure of the disputed information, I'd like also to refer to the Audit Commission's conclusion that material weaknesses exist in the council's system of internal controls:
http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/SiteC...
as I believe this heightens the public interest in this case.

Yours faithfully,

William Thackeray

Birmingham City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Thackeray

Further to your request for an internal appeal, please see the attached
response.

(See attached file: Appeal Decision Letter.doc)

regards

Corporate Information Governance Team

show quoted sections

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

Referred to ICO.

William Thackeray left an annotation ()

ICO decision notice:

http://www.ico.gov.uk/~/media/documents/...

ICO believes the council has genuinely lost the information.