PRIVATE schools in Taunton and Wellington have avoided paying almost £5 million in business rates due to mandatory tax breaks.

Since 2016, the area’s four private schools have been relieved of a total of £4,959,710.61 in tax, due to their ‘charity’ status.

Combined, Taunton School, Wellington School, Queen’s College, and King’s College received mandatory charity relief of just over £1 million a year for the last three years, and just shy of £1 million for the two years before, across nine properties in Taunton Deane.

Most independent schools across the country are registered charities, which gives them certain tax exemptions. Universities and some sixth form colleges also have the same privileges.

In order to exercise these, the schools have to provide a ‘public benefit’ - but its up to individual schools how they go about doing this and there are no set requirements.

Somerset West and Taunton Cllr Libby Lisgo has twice brought forward plans to SWT in a bid to increase the contributions private schools make to the community, but has twice been swept aside to instead focus on ‘engagement’ with the institutions.

But she claims productive chats are still yet to be had.

She said: “Five million out of our local economy over the last five years.

“They’re obviously not doing anything illegal as they’re operating within the law and benefitting as charities which they’re entitled to do. But I do wonder if the general public will see this as natural justice? I don’t.

“But colleagues at SWT council found all sorts of reasons not to support my very reasonable suggestions earlier in the year. I thought I was trying to find a way to push back at some of the inequality in our society, but other parties didn’t agree.

“You can be sure that absolutely no progress has been made in terms of informal discussions with the schools. Meanwhile we have to continue to live with this iniquitous situation in our area.”

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Rate relief for fee-paying private schools has been a cause of contention for years, with the argument coming back into play as the UK government’s A Level results algorithm apparently favoured pupils in privileged areas and private schools.

The government did u-turn on its methods, instead favouring teachers’ predictions.

However, one private school in Taunton has explained that they are affected by around 18 different taxes, including irrecoverable VAT - a bill in excess of £550,000 per annum - and that they contribute millions each year to the local economy.

A spokesperson for King’s College said: “At King’s Schools, we fundamentally believe we discharge our charitable duties to the fullest extent and are a hugely valuable resource to the town of Taunton and the wider community, a resource that is supported by business rates relief.

“The parents of pupils often make significant sacrifices to pay the fees to give their child or children a King’s education.

“In doing so they help to relieve UK taxpayers of the financial burden of educating a significant number of UK based children.

“We already support a number of local children with 100 per cent or close to 100 per cent bursaries, and our Somerset Scholarship annually brings in three or four children on heavily subsidised places. Business rates relief helps King’s to provide this support to the local community.”

As well as being a major employer in the area, with 320 on staff, the school educates 740 pupils - saving the government £4.3million according to their calculations.

The school also has close ties to the armed forces and a range of different charitable causes, including the Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation.

Taunton School, Queen’s College, and Wellington School were not able to offer a response in time for the County Gazette’s deadline.