March 06, 2007 -- BBC News Independent schools in England and Wales will soon have to prove how they provide a public benefit if they wish to retain their charitable status.
A consultation paper from the Charity Commission sets out the principles for being a charity - a status that can give private schools tax benefits.
Eventually private schools may have to show they offer bursaries or share their facilities with state schools.
The Independent Schools Council says most schools already run such schemes.
Most independent schools have charitable status, which until recently was automatic for non-profit schools.
But the Charities Act 2006 changed that and now all charities must show they provide a public benefit.
The consultation paper, published on Wednesday, is the first step towards detailing what schools must do to retain their charitable status.
The key principles are that there must be an identifiable benefit to at least one section of the public and that people on low incomes must be able to access the charity's services.
The Independent Schools Council says schools will probably need to show they are either offering subsidised places or are sharing their resources with the local community.
It believes most independent schools already meet this requirement.
The Charity Commission's chairwoman, Dame Suzi Leather, said: "The issue of public benefit is at the heart of the implied covenant between charities and society - in return for having purposes which are charitable and provide public benefit, charities may enjoy the benefits of charitable status.
"We believe that every charity should be able to show a real benefit to the public - not just private interests - and that people on low incomes should be able to benefit.
"All charities should report what they do for public benefit. We think that those which charge high fees where the public benefit may not be obvious should assess and report the value of the benefit they provide alongside the value of the benefits they receive - including of course the tax breaks."