Luton Borough Council was prosecuted by the HSE late last year following an incident at a high school in which an assistant headteacher was attacked by a pupil and left with life-changing injuries.
A property in England and Wales that is a ‘place of public religious worship’ is wholly exempt from business rates, pursuant to Schedule 5 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 as amended.
Exemption applies if the property:
- Belongs to the Church of England or the Church in Wales.
- Is registered and certified as a place of worship under The Places of Worship Registration Act 1855.
- Is a church hall, chapel hall or similar building used in connection with a place of worship.
- Is occupied by the organisation responsible for conducting public religious worship and used to carry out administrative or other activities in relation to the organisation or the conduct of public worship, such as offices used by the organisation.
- Is used for various community uses, including those that pay a fee, so long as the overall use of the building is for a place of public religious worship.
- Is a place of public worship. It’s been held, for example, that Mormon temples do not qualify for the exemption because they are not open to the public at large but only to Mormons in good standing.
If you claim business-rate exemption, the valuation office and the local authority can challenge the valuation of a claim¹, so it’s important to make sure you check the eligibility carefully.
Definition of a place of worship
There have been several cases about what constitutes a place of worship for the purposes of the exemption – a theistic² approach is no longer considered appropriate. The Supreme Court widened the definition³, deciding that the chapel of the Church of Scientology was registered under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855.
Where the exemption is permitted, this extends to church halls, chapel halls or similar buildings used in connection with the place of worship⁴. In the case of Ebury (VO) v The Church Council of the Central Methodist Church, two rooms within a church were used as a coffee shop and book shop run by church volunteers. It was held that they were used in connection with a place of worship and, therefore, attracted the statutory exemption.
Following this particular case, the difficulty arises where, for example, the church or church hall is regularly used for community activities where a small fee is charged for the whole of the church or the hall or, for example, perhaps the church hall is used for dance groups or arts groups. In this situation, if the whole building is still used regularly by the Church as a place of worship, then we suggest the church authority sets this out in an appeal to the Valuation Office. We advised on a recent case where a church used this as a successful basis of appeal following a challenge from the Council for space being used otherwise than for worship activities.
The facts of each case are very much dependant on their circumstances. For example, the Ebury case was distinguished by the valuation tribunal in Romley Life Centre (appeal 423517273728/113 No 5) heard on 21 June 2011, where café facilities were considered to be a prominent and commercial character and so were unable to qualify for an exemption.
If you would like to discuss this article further, or for any planning-related legal matters, please contact Stuart Evans.
1. See Glenwright (VO) and Durham City Council v St Nicholas PCC (1988) RA 1 Land Tribunal
2. Theistic (a belief in a god or gods)
3. Case of R (on the application of Hodkin) be the registrar general births, deaths and marriages (2003) UK Supreme Court SC77
4. Case of Ebury (VO) v The Church Council of the Central Methodist Church 2009 (LC) 17 July 2009
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