Ecclesias in England and Wales currently contemplating registering with the Charity Commission may find the following resources useful. The recommended starting point is the booklet Registering as a Charity which can be ordered here (links available at the bottom of the page).
The recordings are of presentations made at Shirley meeting room on February 21, 2015 to representatives from over sixty ecclesias. Click on the links for the slides for presentations two and three.
- Presentation one: ecclesias and the State (John Morris – 15 minutes)
A brief review of the history of our relationship with the State, and some of the challenges faced today
- Presentation two: what the legislation says (David Gouldingay – 40 minutes)
An examination of current legislation and related topics, such as the ‘advancement of religion’ and public benefit.
- Presentation three: options for ecclesias (Kevin Rawlings – 40 minutes)
Options available to ecclesias.
Some parts of the recordings are less clear when questions are being taken from the floor. A report of the meeting has been published April 2015’s magazine, page 175 and is reproduced here.
PRESENTATION ONE: ECCLESIAS AND THE STATE (JOHN MORRIS)
PRESENTATION TWO: WHAT THE LEGISLATION SAYS (DAVID GOULDINGAY)
PRESENTATION THREE: OPTIONS FOR ECCLESIAS (KEVIN RAWLINGS)
Ecclesias in England and Wales that are already in law charities but not registered with the Charity Commission (CC) must now do so, where their annual income exceeds £5,000. Each ecclesia needs to assess the evidence determining whether or not it is charitable.
THE legalities of this subject are not straightforward and the differing circumstances of each ecclesia mean that one approach is not appropriate for all. This meeting was arranged therefore to provide information on what the regulations require to help ecclesias decide whether or not to register. It also provided a forum to discuss issues and provide guidance on the options available and the necessary actions to be taken.
PRESENTATION ONE: ECCLESIAS AND THE STATE
Brother John Morris, Chairman of the Military Service Committee, reminded attendees of occasions when we have been challenged on conscience matters in the past, and highlighted some of those we face today. Regarding CC registration his counsel was that not everything the State requires of us is wrong, that ideally there should be a consistent response across ecclesias, and that we must have the courage of our Biblical convictions, whatever the outcome. Compromise now may have implications for future disputes with the State.
PRESENTATION TWO: WHAT THE LEGISLATION SAYS
Brother David Gouldingay examined and summarised the current legislation in relation to charities. This included a legal definition of charities, which focused on “the advancement of religion” by ecclesias and an explanation of “the public benefit requirement”. An illustrative statement of ecclesial objectives was suggested. On answering the question of whether or not it was a legal requirement for ecclesias to register as charities, Brother David answered ‘Yes’, provided that:
- The ecclesia is exclusively charitable (i.e., it advances religion without any additional non-charitable motive), and
- Religion is advanced for the public benefit (i.e., is not in the nature of a private members’ club but preaches, offers access to worship and has at least some engagement with the public), and
- Its annual income from all sources (including collections taken for onward transmission to community organisations) exceeds £5,000.
Matters relating to documentation and the responsibilities of the Arranging Brothers were also considered.
PRESENTATION THREE: OPTIONS FOR ECCLESIAS
Finally, Brother Kevin Rawlings examined the options available. Some ecclesias have already decided to register. Others may choose not to, possibly because some objectives and activities are not for the public benefit, or because the ecclesia fails (perhaps by choice) to satisfy one of the technical conditions for being charitable. As the majority of representatives came from ecclesias which have benefited from Gift Aid payments but have yet to register with the CC, Brother Kevin considered their options.
An ecclesia in this category owning its own hall was in the most restricted position, in practice having little choice but to register. This is because the alternative of relinquishing its present legal status as an unregistered charity could result in closure of that charity in law, leading to loss of the ecclesial hall and all other assets in the legally prescribed wind-up process.
Brother Kevin also pointed out that, since the Finance Act 2010, only registered charities have been allowed to claim Gift Aid, a further important point for all ecclesias presently making such claims but not yet registered with the CC.
In the discussions that followed several points were noteworthy.
- Most representatives from ecclesias in the last category acknowledged the regulations were driving them towards registration with the CC.
- Those considering registration are looking for further guidance on the process, and ideally some model documentation they may use.
- As around forty ecclesias are already registered with the CC, efforts will be made to make documentation available from those who have recently completed the process.
- Some ecclesias are choosing not to register with the CC. In making this decision, any ecclesia needs to stop Gift Aid claims and is advised, in conjunction with professional support, to disclose their position to HM Revenue and Customs in writing.
- Doing nothing is not an option. Ecclesias must decide whether or not to register, taking advice as necessary, making sure that documentation of the ecclesia’s circumstances supports this decision.
In all these considerations, ecclesias were recommended to seek professional advice. In the first instance the booklet Registering as a Charity should be consulted (available from the Christadelphian Office, price: £2.50), which gives sources of further help. Recordings and slides of the presentations are also available to download free of charge above.
What ecclesias should do is a matter for individual consideration. Anecdotally, the majority of those attending are considering registration with the CC on the basis that this is not in conflict with ecclesial objectives, and efforts should be made to obey the law of the land wherever possible. Others will not be joining on the basis that it is better to keep the State at arm’s length, and the potential for future ecclesial interference by the Government may be increased for those that are registered charities.
None of these responses can be considered right or wrong, but perhaps the whole matter may be viewed as an indication of growing tensions between those who fear God and the rest of society. One day soon, we pray, such tensions will be a thing of the past.