Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lawyers issue alert over new test for Christian charities

I have been increasingly anxious about the new proposals of the Charity Commissioners. It looks as if the charitable status, and therefore exemption from tax, etc., will be removed from Christian institutions that "do not serve a useful public purpose", such as retreat houses, monasteries, educational and catechetical institutes. Ultimately of course it could mean that parishes could loose their charitable status, if there work is not in line with current government thinking about what is "a useful public purpose".

The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship is urging churches and Christian organisations to register their concern over the latest Government attempt to review the 'public benefit' of Christian charities.
As part of a wide-sweeping upgrade of charity registration and management of charities by the Charity Commissioners, the Commission published a consultation document looking at whether charities which did not appear to meet a 'public benefit test' should lose their rights to Registered Charity status, including tax advantages through Gift Aid.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and public policy officer at LCF said: "The Charities Act 2006 removed the legal presumption that charities established for the advancement of religion have purposes that are for the public benefit.
"'Public benefit' is not defined in the Charities Act 2006 and it has specifically been left to the Charity Commission to consult on the matter. Christian charities will now have to prove their 'public benefit' to the Charity Commission. It is of concern that the Charity Commission has said it will interpret 'public benefit' in the light of 'modern conditions'. What this could mean for Christian charities that exist for evangelism or which promote traditional Christian teaching on family and life issues is unknown."
The Government proposal is that every charity will have to prove its 'public benefit' on an annual basis. Those who fail to persuade Civil Servants could be de-registered and lose out on taxable advantages, such as claiming tax back on donations given via Gift Aid.
Although the Consultation period ended on June 6, the LCF is encouraging church leaders and trustees of Christian organisations to write to the Charity Commission to demonstrate to depth of concern amongst Christian charities.
The address for the Charity Commission is:
Charity Commission Direct, PO Box 1227, Liverpool, L69 3UG, or email
The LCF has submitted a response on behalf of churches and Christian charities which can be found at:


Anonymous said...

This issue has been forced by the increasing number of failing religious Orders that are sitting on vast capital accrued by land sales and the inability to carry on their apostolic work due to infirmity or small numbers. They are mainly nineteenth-century foundations. There is one branch of the Mercy Sisters in Britain that is sitting on £40m liquid capital and is reluctant to give any of the interest to deserving Catholic causes beyond minimal subventions. It is unethical to hoard capital on this scale. Should this legislation go through, the active Orders are partly to blame. Unfortunately, the weakest sector is formed by the enclosed, contemplative Orders who do not have an active apostolate. They should be given exemption and I suspect that their title deeds, which give them charitable status, might help. It is Orders that are unable, or unwilling, to carry out their apostolates that are the likeliest to be regulated. Effectively they are breaking the law by retaining charitable status while failing to carry out the work that entitles them to it. The solution to this predicament largely lies in their own hands. A distribution of income made in accordance with their original purpose would give them greater protection. On the Continent many declining Orders have dispersed their capital, retaining enough to look after the residue of religious until they die. In this way, they continue to live the vow of poverty.

Anonymous said...

I suggest this approach.

The "useful public benefit" of Catholic parishes is that in them a faith is taught and preached which imposes on believers a religious obligation, binding on the conscience, for the sake of God to honour the civil authorities as His ministers, to practise good citizenship, keep the peace, obey the law and pay lawful taxes. If in public service the Catholic must serve with unblemished integrity, and must willingly fight and die for his country if called to arms in a just cause.

Anonymous said...

"There is one branch of the Mercy Sisters in Britain that is sitting on £40m liquid capital and is reluctant to give any of the interest to deserving Catholic causes beyond minimal subventions."

If this is the case (and I am not dis-believing you), I can't see how it can be morally justified.

There are a number of very worthwhile Catholic organisations in this country, loyal to the magisterium, as well as good solid charities like 'Aid to the Church in Need' and 'The Good Counsel Network' who would benefit hugely in their work if some of this money was donated to them. Surely the Sisters of Mercy don't need this amount of "liquid capital"?

Fr Ray Blake said...

What Damian says is interesting, I think it is unfair of him to tar the other branches of the Mercy Sisters with this, I hope he will name which ones here, there aren't that many so this seems to cast a certain aspergion on all.

However the Charity Commissioner would not accept the transfer of one charities funds to another.

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