The Church of Scientology will be given council tax breaks equivalent to the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church if Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill is made law, it has been claimed.
Scientologists have a number of buildings in the UK as well as chaplain’s houses and critics argue that both would be given some form of tax break.
The Conservatives have attacked the plans, calling them “unpalatable consequences” of the Equality Bill.
They say the Equality Bill, which is currently before the Houses of Parliament, calls on councils to protect “any religious or philosophical belief” from local tax increases.
A new “public-sector equality duty” not only bans all authorities from discriminating against any philosophical belief but forces them to “advance equality” of those who hold philosophical beliefs.
Bob Neill, Shadow Minister for Local Government, said: “The public will be alarmed that Harriet Harman is planning to give local tax breaks to Scientologists.
“Struggling families and local firms will object to Scientology being able to avoid council tax and business rates, whilst their bills have gone through the roof.
“Tolerance and freedom of expression are important British values, but this does not mean that the likes of Scientology deserve special tax treatment.
“Like Labour’s so-called Human Rights Act, Harman’s new law threatens to have a series of unintended and unpalatable consequences.”
Under current British law, places of worship are exempt from business tax rates and homes of religious leaders receive council tax discounts.
In June, an association of small shops warned MPs that the Equality Bill would heap more costs and bureaucracy on them.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said new measures in the Bill could see small shops facing the “distressing prospect” of multiple employment tribunals under new rules for dealing with employee grievances.
Carrying out the proposed gender pay audits would pile on an additional administrative burden, the group warned.
“In a business where staff turnover is high, and where this data is unlikely to be collated centrally, such a requirement would represent a significant burden,” said ACS Chief Executive James Lowman.
“The convenience store sector employs around 250,000 staff who value the local, flexible and social aspects of working in their local shop,” Mr Lowman said.
“We absolutely support legal standards to support employees but we fear that the measures proposed in the Equality Bill will just heap more costs and bureaucracy on small stores.”