Charity not exempt from €4,000 rates bill over 'advancement of religion'

One of its purposes is the "advancement of religion" which does not entitle it to an exemption from those rates, the High Court has ruled
Charity not exempt from €4,000 rates bill over 'advancement of religion'

An Evangelical Christian charity helping alleviate poverty in the Third World must pay its annual €4,000 rates bill in Dublin because one of its purposes is the "advancement of religion" which does not entitle it to an exemption from those rates, the High Court has ruled.

Tearfund Ireland Ltd is a faith-based organisation with offices at Ulysses House, Foley Street.

It is a registered charity and part of its stated purpose is that anyone working for it in alleviating poverty must accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God and "want to introduce the people whom they serve to that fullness of life which comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone."

Valuation tribunal

In 2019, a Valuation Tribunal ruled it was exempt from rates as a charitable organisation. The Valuation Commissioner, whose role under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is to independently value all commercial and industrial properties in the country, was unhappy with this decision.

As a result a case was stated to the High Court to ask it to determine whether the decision was correct in law in holding that the meaning intended by the Oireachtas to "charitable purposes" included the "advancement of religion".

The Commissioner argued, among other things, that since 1914 the Irish courts at the highest levels had consistently ruled that in the interpretation of rating statues for charitable purposes, it did not include the advancement of religion.

The exclusion of advancement of religion from the definition of “charitable purposes” was consistent with the intention of rating law generally that all ratepayers should bear the burden fairly and equally, it was also argued.

Case law

Tearfund argued the Valuation Act of 2001 made new provisions for properties that were to be exempt and abolished previous provisions. This meant that much of the earlier case law on this issue was no longer relevant. It was also argued there had been a wide definition of "charitable purpose" for 130 years.

Mr Justice Robert Barr ruled against the Valuation Tribunal saying it was not correct in law in holding that the meaning intended by the Oireachtas to be assigned to charitable purposes under the 2001 Act included the “advancement of religion”.

The Tribunal was also incorrect to find that the advancement of religion is a charitable purpose for the purposes of the 2001 Act.

In a separate judgment this week, the judge ruled both sides should pay their own costs. He said Tearfund had embarked on a relatively cheap method of determining the question of what rates it was obliged to pay (through the Tribunal).

When it was appealed to the High Court by the Commissioner, Tearfund was left in the position that it had to act as the natural and proper opponent (legitimus contradictor) or let the appeal go unopposed.

That would mean they would have lost what they achieved before the Valuation Tribunal. Instead they had to incur considerable expense and hire a legal team, the judge said.

He was satisfied that there was sufficient public interest in the outcome of the appeal to make it just that each party should bear their own costs.

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