Permission to Officiate – the new policy

A summary of some of the more important components of the new policy

A new Policy on Granting Permission to Officiate (PTO) (“the Policy”) was issued by the Church of England’s House of Bishops Delegation Committee on Friday 20 July 2018; a preliminary overview is provided in an earlier post. Below are extracts of some parts of relevance to this week’s IICSA hearing on the Peter Ball case study, and a full list of contents is included below.

Basics of Permission to Officiate

Permission to Officiate is underpinned by a number of basic principles:

  • Canon C 8 is the main point of reference, stating that a minister duly ordained as priest or deacon (referred to as a cleric throughout the Policy) may officiate in any place only after he or she has received authority to do so from the diocesan bishop in which that place is situated [2.1].
  • Sanctions for officiating without PTO fall within the ambit of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, as amended, [2.4].
  • Bishops must follow the House of Bishops’ Safer Recruitment guidance (see para 1.3 of the Policy) when granting PTO [2.7]. That guidance is covered by S5 Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016
  • Bishops should ensure inter alia that: PTO is issued for a fixed term, and a review is carried out before renewal, which must be subject to obtaining enhanced criminal record checks, [2.8]


In granting PTO, bishops should be aware of the following [2.10]:

  • They should not give PTO unless they are confident about the cleric’s ability to officiate and are happy to recommend him or her to clergy in the diocese.
  • PTO should not be granted where a licence is more appropriate.
  • PTO may be granted to a cleric in more than one diocese, and they should keep a record of any other dioceses where PTO has been granted.
  • PTO is not granted as of right, however senior or experienced the cleric may be.
  • PTO should not be restricted by attempting to exclude children or vulnerable adults from someone’s ministry. However, PTO may be restricted by geographical area (for example to a parish or deanery).
  • PTO should not be suspended, but must be withdrawn, whilst investigations are carried out into any allegations made against a cleric in line with House of Bishops Responding to, Assessing and Managing Safeguarding concerns or allegations against church officers practice guidance.
  • It is a criminal offence for an individual who is barred from working with vulnerable groups to apply for a regulated activity role (including PTO) and it is a criminal offence for an organisation to appoint a barred person to a regulated activity (including PTO).
  • The conditions for PTO for retired clergy will be different from those for clergy of working age. (See further section 9 on PTO in retirement).


It important to ensure that clergy with PTO are fully aware that [2.11]:

  • PTO is required for preaching, presiding at the Eucharist and taking the Occasional Offices;
  • ministry under PTO requires the permission of the incumbent or priest in charge of the relevant parish (or in a vacancy, the area dean and churchwardens);
  • PTO depends on holding an up to date DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service]check and is only valid for as long as the DBS check remains in force;
  • PTO is subject to carrying out safeguarding training and keeping this training up to date;
  • they must work in accordance with the House of Bishops Safeguarding Policy and Practice Guidance and report any safeguarding concerns or allegations to the DSA in line with House of Bishops guidance;
  • PTO is held entirely at the bishop’s discretion and may be withdrawn by the bishop at any time, and without any right of appeal;
  • clergy on PTO should agree mutual expectations about their ministry with someone designated by the Bishop and review these expectations in the light of changing circumstances or when an application is made for renewal of PTO;
  • they may be required to complete a return providing brief details of the ministry they have exercised;
  • the Clergy Discipline Measure applies to all clergy, however their ministry is authorised, and continues to apply even when they are no longer active in their ministry.

Furthermore, clergy must check that someone has the relevant authority before inviting them to minister in their parish [2.12]. The Policy outlines where it would be appropriate to issue a PTO, as opposed to a Licence.

Issue of PTO

The forms of ministry that usually require permission to officiate include [3.1]:

  • Occasional duties, for example preaching, providing cover during temporary absence, and presiding at the Eucharist,
  • performing the Occasional Offices;
  • substituting during a vacancy;
  • covering a period of authorised absence (such as sabbatical, maternity leave or sick leave).

Furthermore, Clergy should not normally be invited to exercise the following forms of ministry unless they have a current permission to officiate (or are beneficed or licensed) [3.2]:

  • spiritual direction, mentoring or work consultation (e.g. a retired cleric with experience of church schools can be of considerable help to an incumbent coming new to this specialised area);
  • conducting retreats or quiet days;
  • acting as an outside consultant/teacher/facilitator for parishes (e.g. for PCC away days, stewardship campaigns, Lent groups and house groups);
  • participating in missions, staffing CMD [Continuing Ministerial Development] and ordination courses, or participating as a peer reviewer in MDR [Ministerial Development Review];
  • representing the diocese or the Church of England on various bodies or visits (e.g. an overseas diocese linked with the diocese, a charity, or a secular organisation), and drafting papers.

If a cleric is carrying out a ministry subject to an employment contract (for example, as chaplain or DDO), he or she will need a licence rather than PTO. However, clergy who are carrying out an employed role that does not require a licence (because it is one that does not need an ordained person) will need to be given PTO to enable them to exercise a ministry [3.4].

Issue of Licence

Whether a cleric with PTO is understood as operating mainly in one parish or across the deanery, area, or diocese is something that varies between dioceses. This policy guidance will, therefore, need to be applied to suit the particular diocesan policy framework. See further section 4.29-31 on geographical restrictions, [3.6].

With the exception of beneficed clergy, the Bishop gives clergy authority to minister either by a licence or by permission to officiate. Whether to give a licence or permission to officiate will be, to some extent, a matter of judgement. In many cases, however, it will be fairly clear…[3.7].

Whether a cleric is given a licence or permission to officiate, the extent of his or her engagement in ministry will vary. Whatever arrangements are put in place need to reflect this, and avoid being too top heavy or inflexible, whilst conforming to best safeguarding practice. The important point is to be aware of the legal implications before deciding whether to issue a licence or give PTO [3.9]. The legal implications are summarised below and are recorded in more detail at Annex 1.

  • Clergy with a licence have all the entitlements and obligations conferred by the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service Measure and Regulations) 2009: they must participate in MDR and CMD…Unless they come into one of the categories of fixed term minister allowed by Regulation 29, a licence will be open-ended until retirement age. After retirement age, clergy may also be appointed to offices on a fixed term basis, but only for a fixed term after the bishop has issued the appropriate direction.
  • By contrast, permission to officiate is granted and held at the will of the diocesan bishop and may be withdrawn at any time. Those who have it may only exercise their ministry at the invitation of the relevant incumbent or priest in charge. Any role they have in a parish should not be of a kind that requires detailed description: if a detailed description is required, then the cleric should be issued with a licence. However, when a cleric is on PTO, it is desirable to clarify mutual expectations with the incumbent/priest in charge through an exchange of letters, and to keep this under regular review. The role of a cleric with PTO in a parish will be subject to review if there is a change in incumbent or priest in charge.

Granting PTO

Section 4 and Annex & concern the process of granting PTO. With regard to individuals who may pose a risk, If there are any safeguarding allegations or concerns revealed (particularly where there had been convictions for offences in connection with child sex abuse, domestic abuse or findings of fact in civil proceedings) such as:

  • in a blemished DBS check,
  • in the confidential declaration,
  • after a review of the Blue File,
  • after a review of a safeguarding case file,
  • by any other relevant checks,

advice must be sought from both the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser and the diocesan registrar, before deciding whether to grant PTO…[4.22]. PTO must always be refused or withdrawn if there have been substantiated concerns or allegations in relation to child or adult abuse, for example when [4.24]:

  • there has been a finding of criminal guilt or acceptance of a caution;
  • there has been a finding of fact as part of civil proceedings, or an unequivocal admission in the context of a civil settlement;
  • allegations have been found proven in disciplinary proceedings, for example under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (or its predecessors);
  • a cleric has been prohibited and/or barred from work with children and/or  vulnerable adults
  • a family court has made a finding of fact that a cleric has caused significant harm to a child and/or vulnerable adult, or when a cleric has had any such court made an order against them on the basis of any finding or allegation that any child and/or vulnerable adult was at risk of significant harm
  • there had been a statutory and/or church investigation, including a risk assessment, in line with Responding Guidance, that evidenced the safeguarding concerns had been substantiated and there was an ongoing risk to children or adults.

Other issues

Section 5 relates to safeguarding training, for which “failure to participate in safeguarding training is a disciplinary offence and a reason for withdrawing PTO” [5.5].

Section 6 on refusing, withdrawing or not renewing PTO is of particular relevance, and paragraph 6.10 includes “Appropriate reasons for withdrawing PTO (in addition to those already mentioned at paragraph 4.24)”. Those concerning safeguarding include:

  • following an initial risk assessment if safeguarding concerns or allegations (in line with the practice guidance on responding) have been identified in situations where
    suspension would otherwise be the usual response [reference 14];
  • following an allegation of abuse in a cleric ’s past ministry pending the police investigation [reference 15];
  • failure to comply with House of Bishops’ Policy Guidance on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, including failure to participate in safeguarding training. (NB All clergy who have authority to officiate are required by section 5 of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016 to have ‘due regard’ to House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance).

There is no provision for the suspension of PTO. The diocesan bishop can simply withdraw the permission in circumstances where suspension from the exercise of ministry would otherwise be appropriate [6.16].

When a diocesan bishop retires or leaves the diocese, the diocesan safeguarding team are responsible for writing a confidential report on state of Safeguarding in the diocese on behalf of the outgoing bishop for his or her successor. This report should contain a list of those clergy who have had PTO refused or withdrawn, and details of any soft or low-level information about those with licences or PTO, so that the new bishop is fully briefed [6.18].

All clergy with PTO, even if their duties are light and irregular, should have a regular review of their ministry with the designated responsible person. This will involve a brief discussion of the ministry carried out by the cleric with PTO [7.2].

PTO is granted subject to DBS clearance. It is currently the policy to require DBS checks to be renewed at least every 5 years [8.1]. PTO must only be granted or renewed after a satisfactory DBS certificate has been received and examined18, and must not be granted for a period which exceeds the period for which the DBS check is valid [8.2].

In accordance with the recommendation in the Gibb Report, it has been agreed to set up a national on-line register of all clergy who have the bishop’s authority to minister (whether on PTO, or licensed, or beneficed) [11.4]. Regular processes will need to be put in place for checking and agreeing data between dioceses and the National Church Institutions and Crockford’s Clerical Directory [11.6].

Contents summary

1. Introduction
2. What is PTO?
3. When is PTO appropriate
4. The process
5. Safeguarding training
6. Refusing, withdrawing or not renewing PTO
7. Reviewing PTO
8. Renewing PTO
9. PTO in retirement
10. Supporting clergy on PTO and maintaining them in ministry
11. Recording PTO, record keeping and Blue Files
12. PTO in more than one diocese

Annex 1 Differences between licence and PTO
Annex 2 Retirement timeline
Annex 3 Model application form
Annex 4 Model permission to officiate
Annex 5 Model statement of agreed expectations
Annex 6 Annual ministerial return
Annex 7 Flow Chart
Annex 8 Template for conferring exemptions from safeguarding training requirements in exceptional cases


14 Serious Incident Reporting Guidance is being drafted, which may, when approved, require that safeguarding concerns or allegations that warrant the withdrawal of PTO are reported to the Charity Commission as a safeguarding Serious Incident.

15 This would also be a reason not to renew following a safeguarding concern or allegation when the outcome of a statutory and/or church investigation is that the concern/allegation has been substantiated and that there is ongoing risk.


Following criticism on the uncertainty on the meaning of “due regard” at the earlier IICSA hearing, the new Policy explains the term in detail, viz.

“This means that they are required to follow that guidance unless there are cogent reasons for not doing so. (‘Cogent’ for this purpose means clear, logical and convincing.) Failure by clergy to comply with the duty imposed by the 2016 Measure may result in disciplinary action”.

It also notes “Other parts of this policy refer to the Canons and other statutory requirements, which also must be followed [1.4], i.e.

“1.5 Where provisions of this policy should be considered mandatory – either because they reflect legal requirements or provisions of the guidance referred to in paragraph 1.3 – the language used reflects that with words such as must or required being used. Other parts of the policy are recommended as good practice and are referred to as recommendations or by use of the word should.

1.6 Finally, there are parts of the policy that suggest how the policy could be implemented in a diocese. In these cases, the word may is used”.

Not included in the above is an explanation of the legal meaning of “ensure” which is used in a number of mandatory and non-mandatory contexts.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Permission to Officiate – the new policy" in Law & Religion UK, 23 July 2018,


14 thoughts on “Permission to Officiate – the new policy

  1. Pingback: Bishops’ Policy on Granting Permission to Officiate | Law & Religion UK

  2. Pingback: Peter Ball – legislation, then and now (I) | Law & Religion UK

    • Dear Mark

      Thank you for your email request. Unfortunately, we do not give advice on specific issues.

      Best regards


  3. Is there a list of Clergy that are licensed to officiate weddings that would be prepared to attend a wedding outside of their parish/or clergy that are retired and are available to take bookings for weddings in all locations.

  4. Have I read this correctly: Someone in a contracted chaplaincy role, in a hospital for example, MUST be licensed rather than be granted PTO?

    • The answer to your question lies in the interpretation of paragraph 3.4, as you indicate, but whether this is mandatory or not is a matter for each diocese, and the Registrar should be able to give guidance.

  5. Where can I find information about what those holding PtO are / are not allowed to do in terms of the day to day operations of the parish? I understand we are not allowed to be on the electoral roll (why??); what else are we not allowed to do, please? Would we, for example, be allowed to be a PCC secretary or treasurer?
    Many thanks,

  6. I know this message is long after the original post. But can a Bishop make a decision not to grant a PTO without supplying any reasons, such as safeguarding? That is, can the Bishop decision be purely arbitary, there being no grounds like :
    in a blemished DBS check,
    in the confidential declaration,
    after a review of the Blue File,
    after a review of a safeguarding case file,
    by any other relevant checks.
    Is the Bishop still bound the case of a not granting a PTO by the Clergy Guidelines under S 1.3, 1.4, 2.4, 9.2, 12.2? Thank you.

    • Section 6.2 states: “The diocesan bishop is not expressly required to give a reason for withdrawing PTO,
      although it should not be done without good reason”.

      Section 6.4 requires that: “The reason for the refusal, withdrawal or non-renewal should be recorded on the Blue File. The cleric will have the right to make a subject access request and see the Blue File including the reason for the refusal, withdrawal or non-renewal, although this will not include any information about third parties.”

      However, the use of “should” in S 6.4 indicates that this is not a mandatory requirement.


  7. As with the post above, I realise this is a very late posting but any guidance welcome please: in a situation where a plurality exists which spans the boundary of two dioceses, can a curate licensed to a church in that plurality in one diocese, be given PTO to exercise ministry at a church within the plurality, but within the other diocese?

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