Section 6 of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 (No 3) deals with the way in which (a) land (freehold land and leases for a year or more) and (b) personal property to be held on permanent trusts, are to be acquired, held and disposed of by a PCC.
Such property, where it is already held, is to be vested in the Diocesan Board of Finance (‘DBF’), and no new property falling within these classes is to be acquired by a PCC without the consent of the DBF. Any such property newly acquired is also to be vested in the DBF, which holds the property on trust for the PCC. The PCC remains the beneficial owner of the property, but the legal title to the property is vested in the DBF.
If the PCC wishes to dispose of land or personal property which is held on permanent trusts, it will need to consider the following points:
- The PCC will need to obtain the consent of the DBF to the proposed disposal
- The PCC is a charity, and may need to obtain the consent of the Charity Commission to the proposed disposal. The Charity Commission sets out helpful guidance on disposals of property in its leaflet CC28 – Disposal of Charity Land
- The PCC may have acquired or be holding the property on specific trusts set out in a trust deed. This may impose restrictions on how the property or any proceeds of sale may be dealt with.
- If the property belongs to the church itself, ownership will be vested in the churchwardens, and any disposal would require the consent of the PCC and also a Faculty, to authorise the sale.
In general, Church of England churches and their surrounding or adjoining churchyards will be exempt from business rates as they are places of worship – see section 51 and Schedule 5, paragraph 11 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. This exemption also extends to church halls associated with church buildings.
Other property owned by a PCC, such as a separate burial ground, may however be subject to a non-domestic or business rate assessment. Normally in such cases, the PCC will be able to apply for small business rate relief. This involves completion of a very simple form, obtainable from the relevant district council, following which rating relief will normally be available at 100%, so that no rates will actually be payable. However this is dependant on the application form being completed and submitted, and PCCs should not automatically assume that relief will be available. In cases of doubt, advice may be sought from the Registry or from the Finance department at Diocesan House.