The Budget almost always includes a handful of measures specifically directed at charities, but Budget 2015 included several specific items directed at faith groups.
Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme
The Chancellor announced that secondary legislation will be introduced to increase the maximum annual donation amount which can be claimed through the (horribly complicated) Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme to £8,000, allowing charities and Community Amateur Sports Clubs to claim Gift Aid style top-up payments of up to £2,000 a year. The change will take effect from April 2016 and will, we understand, also apply to eligible community buildings. As of December 2014 only £23m had been claimed: well below the Government’s original projection of £50m. We understand that one of the drivers behind the increase in the amount that can be claimed is to raise awareness of the scheme’s existence.
Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund
The Chancellor regularly taunts the Opposition with the slogan that prudent Governments fix the roof while the sun is shining. However, for churches he has proposed just that, announcing an additional £40 million for the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund. The original scheme, which had a very short time-scale for applications, was heavily over-subscribed nevertheless with 1,900 applications. We have yet to see the details of the revived scheme; but everyone hopes that the window for applications will be longer this time round.
Our understanding is that the money will go from HM Treasury to the scheme’s administrators, the National Heritage Memorial Fund – which means that those denominations with a principled objection to funding from the National Lottery will be able to apply to the Roof Repair Fund in good conscience.
Employee benefits and expenses and the OTS report on employment status
As announced at Autumn Statement 2014, the Government intends to simplify the administration of employee benefits and expenses. From April 2015 the Government will provide a statutory exemption for trivial benefits-in-kind costing less than £50. It will also exempt certain reimbursed expenses and introduce a statutory framework for voluntary payrolling.
On the specific issue of the abolition of the £8,500 income tax threshold on benefits-in-kind – which would have serious implications for the remuneration and tax position of Roman Catholic clergy especially – the Government confirmed that the de minimis threshold will indeed be abolished as from April 2016 but that it intends to provide an exemption for ministers of religion.
Inheritance Tax and Deeds of Variation
In the course of his Budget speech the Chancellor announced that there would be a review of Deeds of Variation. A Deed of Variation enables beneficiaries to vary their entitlement under a deceased person’s estate, whether he or she died with a will or Intestate. The review is potentially very significant for charities: there was a proposal to abolish Deeds of Variation some twenty years ago which was strongly resisted by the charity sector – and dropped – because abolition would have had a massive impact on their legacy income. What will happen this time round remains to be seen.
Security for synagogues and Jewish schools
Speaking at the annual Community Security Trust dinner on Wednesday evening – after the Budget – the Prime Minister announced a further £3m for security for synagogues and other potentially vulnerable Jewish community buildings, representing over £10m of new money for security: “this year and every year, for as long as necessary.” The extra funding is part of a new £11.5m annual package for Jewish community security, under which private Jewish schools and colleges will receive £7m for guards and other new measures. The CST will also receive £1.5m to build a control centre for its operations. This new money is on top of the annual £2m the Government already pays for security at Jewish state schools. A sign of the times – and a very sad one.