The Charity Commission for England and Wales has published a second monitoring report on the activities of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, on which Nick Kenchington has provided the following guest post.
in January 2014, the Charity Commission for England and Wales agreed to accept an application for registration from the Preston Down Trust of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC). In February 2016, the Commission published its first monitoring report on the activities of the Trust, (registered charity no. 1155382) and the newly-registered PBBC.
The Charity Commission has now published a second monitoring report as part of its programme of post-registration monitoring of the PBCC’s Gospel Hall Trusts. Over 100 Gospel Hall Trusts have recently registered as charities; and the Commission made a commitment to monitoring a sample to ensure that they were complying with their governing documents, including a Deed of Variation (DoV). The report notes that:
“As with Preston Down Trust, a key element of our decision to register each Gospel Hall Trust was that the trustees agreed to address any issues of detriment and harm in accordance with the Deed of Variation, which clearly sets out PBCC’s principles and teachings and, in particular, that associated disciplinary practices and dealings with former members would be mitigated by compassion.”
The monitoring programme began with the Preston Down Trust, which was the first charity registered.
According to the new report, the Commission did not identify any significant regulatory issues relating to the charities’ compliance with their governing documents and saw sufficient evidence of each charity’s engagement with the wider community to demonstrate public benefit.
As part of its work, the Commission spoke to a number of individuals who were concerned about the treatment of former members at Gospel Hall Trusts. The Commission accepted that trustees of Gospel Hall Trusts were not responsible for the behaviour of individual members, who were free to make personal choices in their dealings with their own family members and others. However, the Commission’s report was clear that it expected the trustees to ensure that each charity’s DoV was readily available to members and that regular discussions were had with them about its provisions. The Commission has also provided PBCC and the Gospel Hall Trusts with regulatory advice and guidance in relation to improvements required in their policies and practices.
This report serves as a reminder that trustees must ensure that their charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit, having particular regard to the Commission’s guidance on the topic. Public benefit is not something that trustees need to think about only when a charity is registered, but from the moment it has been set up. For this reason, it is extremely important that every charity trustee knows exactly what their charity’s purposes are.
Trustees must also make sure that their charity complies with its governing document and that they manage their charity’s resources responsibly, to avoid exposing the charity’s assets to undue risk.
Cite this article as: Nick Kenchington, “Charity Commission monitoring report on Plymouth Brethren Christian Church” in Law & Religion UK, 1 September 2017, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/09/01/charity-commission-monitoring-report-on-plymouth-brethren-christian-church/.
Hi Nick, the Preston Down case seems to show that there is a choice as to whether a church is a charity or not. If a church wants to benefit from the status and financial aspects of being a charity then it must comply with the Charities Act to the satisfaction of the Charity Commission. But initially Preston Down’s application was rejected by the CC and it took some lobbying by MPs to have them accepted. What is a church’s status if their application to the CC is rejected? It is accepted that they will have no claim on the benefits of being a charity, but where does this leave their legal status? What type of organisation are they if not a charity? Thanks, Jon
I think the answer to the last question is, “a non-charitable voluntary association or trust” (depending on the Church’s constitution).