Church weddings, increased fees and “extras”

In a move designed to remove uncertainty from what may be charged for conducting its “occasional offices”, (i.e. weddings and funerals), the Church of England has introduced a new scheme through the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011, which although coming into force in 2011, did not become effective until 1 January 2013 under the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2012. As a consequence, the cost of weddings has increased from £296 to £415, and that for funerals from £102 to £160, and although the new fees now include the costs of lighting and administration, they do not include other charges referred to as “extras”.

[Frank notes that perhaps surprisingly, this is not a solely Church of England concern, because other denominations sometimes use the C of E scale of fees for weddings and funerals as a benchmark for their own].

Nevertheless, despite the guidance available from the Church on the scope of these “extras”, some parishes remain uncertain regarding their application. For couples spending significant sums on the wedding arrangements, the costs of the church service constitute only a small fraction of the total, but for others these increases may result in significant hardship. In either case, it is important to know “up front” what charges are likely to be levied, particularly when they are collected by a third-party such as a funeral director.

In terms of the administration of fees by the churches, the 2011 Measure introduced a further complicating factor through changes to the allocation of the statutory parochial fees. Again, comprehensive guidance is available from the CofE web site, but to clarify matters further, we have summarized the background to these new provisions, which items may be charged as “extras” and how the fees and donations are allocated.

Background

All living within a parish (plus those on the electoral roll and those with a qualifying connection”[‡]) have a legal right to receive the occasional offices of the Church, and therefore neither the incumbent nor the PCC has any power to make the exercise of that right conditional upon the payment of money. The corollary is that Church of England clergy have no general legal right to such fees, and it is therefore an ecclesiastical offence to demand illegal or excessive fees for performing any office of the Church, which falls within the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 on the ground that it amounts to “doing any act in contravention of the laws ecclesiastical”, or that it constitutes “conduct unbecoming”. [See Annex to GS 1703 Parochial Fees, a supplementary report from the Deployment, Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee.]

However, over the years local customs developed whereby fees (often known as “surplice fees”) began to be recognised as payable to parochial clergy in relation to the performance of occasional offices, and although valid in common law, these were challengeable if it could be shown that they did not, or could not, have existed since “time immemorial”. Such fees were sometimes incorporated in the legislation relating to the creation of new parishes, but it was not until 1938 that a general provision, applicable to any parish, came into force. This was replaced in 1962 and then by the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986.

Although section 10 of the 1986 Measure defined “parochial fees”, in its deliberations of 1999 and 2002, the General Synod’s Legal Advisory Commission “found it difficult to make sense of the definition”. Furthermore, the Church’s Legal Office found other problems within the legal framework, and since 2005 two successive working groups have considered how to address these concerns. The deliberations of these groups are reported in GS Misc 877 and GS 1813, the former entitled “Four Funerals and a Wedding” on the basis of the ratio of which the Church conducted these two services (in 2005).

The 1986 Measure was amended with effect from 1 July 2011 by the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011. However, the draft Parochial Fees Order made under the Measure was rejected by General Synod in July 2010 and was not finally agreed until the February 2012 Synod, which approved the draft Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2012. Importantly, the 2012 Order amends further Schedule A1 to the 1986 Measure and removes three forms of service from the table of prescribed parochial fees: Service of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage, in church; Service of Thanksgiving for marriage in church; Memorial service in church. It further prescribes the level of fees for the calendar years 2013 and 2014.

Comment

The changes now being implemented reflect the outcome of the deliberations of the Fees Policy Working Group, which applied four general principles to its proposals for parochial fees, that they should be:

  • justifiable on the basis of a relationship to actual costs incurred;
  • uniform across the Church of England ;
  • as inclusive as possible, leaving ‘extras’ to apply only to those items over      which people have a genuine choice;
  • affordable, though also noting the clarified right to waive fees in clear cases of      hardship.

There are three aspects to the changes to the Parochial Fees:

  • The level and scope of the fees;
  • What may be charges as “extras”; and
  • The recipient of the fees.

There is a comprehensive guide covering the 2014 provisions, and responses to some Frequently Asked Questions. A short summary of the 2014 fees has also been produced.

These tables show the mandatory, statutory fees defined in the Order, indicating the total fee and how this is to be allocated between the Diocesan Board of Finance, (DBF), and the Parochial Church Council, (PCC). The portion of fees allocated to the PCC is intended to represent “a contribution toward the cost of the general upkeep of the church and churchyard for which the PCC is responsible. The prescribed fees are not, however, intended to include any payment for “extras”, for which paragraph 20 of the guide gives a non-prescriptive, non-exhaustive list, including

  • addional heating of the church, specific to the marriage.
  • the services of a verger
  • the services of an organist, choir or bell-ringers
  • sheet or recorded music that has to be specially purchased
  • the provision of recorded or taped music
  • the taking of films, video or sound recordings (where permitted)
  • flowers
  • special furnishings.

These charges for “extras” are payable to either the PCC or the person providing the item (e.g. the organist or choristers) and are subject to local agreement between the incumbent and the PCC, taking account of any guidelines laid down by the diocese. “Extras” can only lawfully be charged for items over which those receiving the ministry have been given a genuine choice. Payments for “extras” are contractual payments, not fees. As such, the PCC is acting as “agent”, and must make sure that proper records are kept for audit and other purposes. It must also make clear to those receiving payments that they (not the PCC) are responsible for declaring their payments to HMRC for tax purposes.

The Church of England has produced a downloadable Wedding Fees Form, which may be completed on-line with details specific to each couple. This provides an itemized, unambiguous list of: mandatory legal fees payable to the church; “extras which a couple may choose or decline”; and voluntary contributions to the church, with details where these are Gift Aided. Although easily accessible, this form is on the “Just for Vicars” part of the site.

With regard to the allocation of the statutory fees, this is less straightforward, but clear guidance is given in the guide and the FAQs. Essentially, those that were formerly payable to the incumbent are now payable to the DBF (or in a few cases, the PCC). Since most clergy who formerly were legally entitled to fees, assigned them to the DBF, in most cases fees that were payable to the DBF by assignment have become payable to the DBF under legislation.

Under transitional arrangements, incumbents who still receive fees direct will receive the DBF part of the fee while they remain in the post they held on 1 July 2011, but only provided they notified the Bishop in writing, before 31 December 2011, that they wished to continue to receive fees from 1 January 2013.


[‡] As from 19 December, changes have been made to increase the scope of “qualifying connections” and to the form in which the Banns are to be announced.  These will be covered in the Religion and Law roundup for 27th January.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Church weddings, increased fees and “extras”" in Law & Religion UK, 23 January 2013, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2013/01/23/church-weddings-increased-fees-and-extras/

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