Reform prepares legal challenge to Labour’s ‘discriminatory’ private schools tax raid

Richard Tice said he would use 'every legal avenue' to block Labour's plans
Richard Tice said he would use 'every legal avenue' to block Labour's plans - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Labour’s planned tax raid on private education faces being challenged in the courts if Sir Keir Starmer wins the general election.

Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader, is assembling a team of lawyers and KCs to fight the “discriminatory” policy, which would apply VAT on independent school fees, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents more than 1,300 schools in the UK, is also understood to be taking legal advice and considering whether to launch a challenge of its own.

Sources at the ISC said it was looking at “all options” and had been in contact with legal professionals about launching a prospective court case if Labour wins the election.

The plan for the 20 per cent tax has sparked fears of an exodus of pupils from private schools as families struggle to afford fees, while Labour’s claims that it could raise £1.6 billion a year for the Exchequer are contested.

Sir Keir has said that Labour would move ahead with the plans “straight away” if it wins the election on July 4, although he said on Monday that he “respects and understands” the choice of parents to “work hard and save hard” to send their children to private schools.

Describing education as the “original charitable endeavour”, Mr Tice said he would use “every legal avenue” to block Labour’s plans if Sir Keir enters Downing Street in July, adding: “All charities, of any form, get business rates relief. To target only independent schools on business rates relief and VAT on fees is deeply discriminatory.”

Mr Tice added that applying VAT to private school fees but not university tuition was also discriminatory.

“I will be actively spearheading a legal campaign in conjunction with lawyers and King’s Counsels to stop the VAT on school fees and business rates relief based on this discrimination relative to universities,” he said.

“We will look to injunct the legislation in order to seek a ruling as to whether it is discriminatory and to stop it being imposed. We will have to wait until the Finance Act, but that’s the moment at which we will seek an urgent injunction.”

Mr Tice added he was prepared to escalate the fight to the European Court of Human Rights, despite his personal opposition to Strasbourg’s legal powers, saying: “I may not be a fan of the ECHR, but whilst we’re in it, I might as well use it.”

He is currently the vice chairman of trustees at his former school Uppingham, in the East Midlands, which was founded in 1584 and charges fees of up to £47,979 a year. But he will step down from the board on June 15, after which point he will be “freed up” to work on his campaign against Labour’s policy.

The plans to challenge the policy in the courts come after Alton School, in Hampshire, which caters for 370 pupils, announced that it would shut this summer as a result of “adverse political and economic factors” draining pupil numbers and leaving it “unviable to run”.

Families with children at the Catholic school have blamed Labour’s policy, with parents describing it as the “final nail in the coffin”.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, rejected warnings of an exodus of private school pupils that could ultimately overwhelm the state system.

Asked by Sky News whether a city could cope with around 1,000 schoolchildren leaving the independent sector, Ms Phillipson replied: “I don’t accept we will see that kind of change.”

The Labour frontbencher said her policy was “a straightforward case of political priorities”, adding: “Do we choose to give tax breaks to private schools, or do we invest directly into our state schools which have faced really big challenges in recent years?”