Chancellor makes church groups smile

By Annie DavidsonRELIGIOUS groups have welcomed the Chancellor's announcement of an increase in VAT relief for church building repairs.Gordon Brown said churches and other sacred places would now be able to reclaim VAT at the full amount of 17.

By Annie Davidson

RELIGIOUS groups have welcomed the Chancellor's announcement of an increase in VAT relief for church building repairs.

Gordon Brown said churches and other sacred places would now be able to reclaim VAT at the full amount of 17.5%, up from 12.5%.

A Treasury spokesman said the measure would be in place from now until March 2006 and applied to listed buildings.


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He added it was estimated to be worth £10million within the next financial year, cash which had already been set aside.

Canon Stephen Hardie, rural dean for the Harwich deanery, said the decision was “very good news”.

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Mr Hardie is the vicar of St Nicholas Church in Harwich, All Saints Church in Dovercourt, St Paul's Church in Parkeston and St Michael's Church in Ramsey.

Last year work costing about £240,000 was carried out at St Nicholas Church to repair its spire and tower. This year, the pinnacles throughout the church will also be repaired, costing a further £200,000.

“Some of the work was carried out last year and has now been paid for, so unfortunately we will not avoid paying the tax on that,” said Mr Hardie.

“This year we have work to do in the region of £200,000 on the pinnacles. It is good news, but having said that we do get a lot of money from English Heritage, which will almost certainly be cut back.

“Effectively what is happening is we are paying big taxes to the Government, but with this announcement the money could be less in the grants in the future once this change has been made.

“Small repair jobs are going to benefit enormously and if the grants don't change, then this is 100% good news.”

He added: “It is good to remember that this is a tax relief which will benefit the historic buildings, it is not a tax reduction on the money paid to the church authorities.

“Churches are very much public buildings and there is a real sense that they belong to the whole town and community.”

The Rev Philip Banks, spokesman for the Bishop of Chelmsford, said: “It's a welcome move. It's to be hoped that it could be extended beyond 2006 for the benefit of the nation's heritage.

“Generally speaking, the upkeep of ancient churches is down to local people who go to church.

“If the building is listed, it's part of the heritage of the town or village. It seems ludicrous the Government should expect people to contribute to churches' upkeep and pay tax as well.”

Arun Kataria, a Church of England spokesman, said it spent about £130m a year on repairs to its 16,000 buildings, 13,000 of which were listed.

He welcomed the move by the Chancellor and said: “We have for several years raised the case about VAT on repairs to church buildings being anomalous.

“We are very grateful for the relief that has been granted hitherto on repairs to listed buildings which is of enormous help to the church, which is the major owner of listed buildings in England.”

The Committee for Patrimony of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, which deals with issues relating to historic Catholic churches, chapels and other buildings, also welcomed the Chancellor's announcement.

A spokesman said: “In England and Wales alone there are 656 listed Catholic churches and chapels and so the Chancellor's announcement should make a considerable difference, both financially and administratively.”

annie.davidson@eadt.co.uk

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