Oxfam v Birmingham City District Council: HL 1976

The appellant charity had the relief of poverty as its main object, a recognised ‘charitable purpose’. It operated gift shops used for sorting and selling donated articles of clothing as well as selling products made in the developing world. All of the profits of such shops were devoted to the charity’s purposes.
Held: The appeal failed. The premises were not being ‘used for charitable purposes’. Not every lawful activity of a charity is necessarily charitable. The ‘charitable purposes’ of a charity are its objects.
Lord Cross of Chelsea said that a court must: ‘[draw] the line so as to exclude from relief user for the purpose of getting in, raising or earning money for the charity, as opposed to user for purposes directly related to the achievement of the objects of the charity’.
Lord Reid said that Oxfam, therefore, was entitled to rating relief in respect of premises which it occupies and which are not being used for the actual relief of poverty of distress, if the use which it makes of them is ‘wholly ancillary to’ or ‘directly facilitates’ the carrying out of its charitable object – the relief of poverty or distress. The nub of the problem was: ‘For my part, I agree with counsel on both sides that one cannot well draw a distinction between using premises to get in money by managing existing trust property and using them to raise fresh money.’


Lord Reid, Lord Cross of Chelsea, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest


[1976] AC 126


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedKenya Aid Programme v Sheffield City Council Admn 22-Jan-2013
The claimant challenged a decision that it was liable for non domestic rates in respect of some commercial units, on the basis that the use by the charity was not itself charitable.
Held: ‘there is no reason for limiting the ambit of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Rating, Charity

Updated: 08 May 2022; Ref: scu.567240