Cuts Watch #279: Old Churches
The DCMS Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, which refunds the Value Added Tax for repairs and maintenance to listed buildings that are still used as places of worship, is to be restricted – professional fees and repairs of organs, pews, bells and clocks will no longer be eligible. In addition, professional fees will no longer be covered by the Memorials Grant Scheme, which refunds VAT for the renovation and maintenance of memorials that the public has access to.
Since it was introduced in 2001, nine thousand places of worship have been supported at a cost of more than £111 million. The restriction, due to be introduced in January, will be a double whammy, as the excluded items will face VAT at the new rate of twenty per cent. Even this may not be the final blow, as the scheme may not be renewed next March – an announcement will be made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Anne Sloman, the Chair of the Church Buildings Council, has pointed out that not renewing the scheme will mean that having to pay VAT on repairs and maintenance will mean that religious groups will have fewer resources to spend on making their buildings available for use by the community:
In many rural areas, churches are the only public buildings left, providing space for post offices, community shops, meeting rooms, play groups and so on. In inner cities, where the vicar is often the only professional still resident in deprived areas, they can provide drop-in centres, and a safe neutral space for a whole range of social service and counselling activities.
The Government has indicated that it wishes to encourage the Church of England to continue making its 16,200 buildings available to serve the wider community beyond the worshipping congregation.
Therefore the Church continues to press the case for the retention of the scheme in full beyond March 2011.