On Thursday 21 February, the General Synod of the Church of England approved a new scheme for parochial fees which will be applicable for the years 2020 to 2024 inclusive. Earlier in February, the General Synod Legal Advisory Commission issued the advice Weddings and Funerals: Additional Charges. Below we review the main points of this recent updating/collation of advice and guidance.
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 introduced a new scheme through the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure 2011; although coming into force in 2011, this did not become effective until 1 January 2013 under the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2012, (“the Order”). The Order defines the mandatory, statutory fees for “occasional offices” and how these are 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.
At the time, guidance was given in the form of a non-prescriptive, non-exhaustive list of what might constitute “extras” which 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.
The issue of “extras” was raised again in 2016 when the February General Synod debated a DSM from the Worcester Diocese, GS 2017A, stating that fees prescribed as payable to parochial church councils in respect of funerals and weddings should include any costs and expenses of providing a verger, see Fees and “extras” for Church weddings and funerals (160217). The associated Background Paper from the Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee (RACSC), GS 2017B, recommended that any changes such as those proposed in the DSM should wait until 2019 when the next Parochial Fees Order, rather than by way of amending the existing 2014 Order part-way through its period of operation. The DSM was lost on a show of hands, and a second motion which made a similar request in relation to the costs and expenses of providing heating, was not debated.
The issue of “extras” arose again in early 2018 in relation to the legality, or otherwise, of a church imposing additional charges on brides who were late for their weddings, see Brides who arrive late (180105).
Despite Synod’s earlier interest in “extras”, supra, the issue was not raised in the debate on Parochial Fees for the period 2020 to 2024, and Weddings and Funerals: Additional Charges was not circulated with the Synod papers. Essentially, this new Advice reiterates the current position on additional charges, although it now indicates how the issue of “late brides” might lawfully be addressed by PCCs. It notes that the Table of Parochial Fees merely summarises the effect of the actual Order and has no legal authority of itself.
It stresses that the only charges that may be made at weddings or funerals are those either prescribed pursuant to the current Parochial Fees Order or set by the parochial church council pursuant to s4 Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure 1956, in respect of ‘extras’ that are not covered by the Parochial Fees Order. It should be noted that “churchyard” as defined in  will have an extended meaning from 1 January 2020, supra.
In relation to a marriage service in church or a funeral in church, Schedule 2, paragraph 2 to the Parochial Fees Order, SI 2014/813, provides that “any costs and expenses incurred in respect of routine administration (including arranging dates and times and the making of entries in registers), making the church available and lighting it are included in the fee payable to the parochial church council.” Accordingly, it is illegal to make any additional charge to those specified in the fees order in relation to any of these matters in any circumstances.
The PCC cannot prescribe the payment of any sum (whether by deposit or otherwise) in respect of items that are not genuine extras. In particular, the PCC cannot prescribe its own additional fees for any matter which is covered by the statutory fee prescribed in the Parochial Fees Order. This is because the PCC has no power under s4 Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 (not 1954 as in the new Advice) to prescribe parochial fees; the authority for the PCC to levy parochial fees is contained solely in the Parochial Fees Order. For example, if a non-parishioner is to be buried in a churchyard, no charge over and above the statutory fees may be demanded, nor any charge made, for the provision of the burial space by the PCC. However, a faculty for the reservation of a grave space may be made conditional upon a payment to the PCC for the continued maintenance of the churchyard.
However, the parochial church council may set charges or fees for any “extras”, such as charges for heating, the services of a verger, music (e.g. organist, choir) bells, and flowers. Whether the couple to be married, or those arranging a funeral, wish to avail themselves of any of these extras, and the amount to be paid in respect of them if they do, is a matter for their agreement and extras cannot be imposed upon them unilaterally . The advice concludes by stating [emphasis added]:
“. In setting charges for such extras the parochial church council can include an additional sum to be payable if the wedding ceremony or funeral is delayed due to any fault other than that of the church or of the minister provided by the church. If they do so, the charge must not be at large. It must be calculable on a set basis and the circumstances in which it is payable must be clearly ascertainable.
. The PCC may require the payment of a deposit in respect of agreed extras. However, no deposit may be demanded, nor any charge made, for any delay unless the parochial church council has made such provision in advance and this is brought to the attention of those arranging the wedding or the funeral and agreed by them.
Since the new Advice preceded the Order relating to Parochial Fees for 2020 to 2024, it quite rightly did not anticipate the proposed changes, such as the broader definition of “churchyard” (article 3(5)) nor the situation where a funeral takes place in a funeral director’s chapel and cover subsequent cremation and burial (article 3(3)). Likewise and equally logically, other unconfirmed changes were not included, although clearly, the Advice will need to be updated before 2020.
From 16 February 2019, the fee for the issue of a Marriage Certificate has been increased to £11.00 and that the two-tier fee system for church weddings has been replaced with a single fee regardless of when the Certificate is issued (i.e. whether issued at the wedding ceremony itself or afterwards), see Increased fee for issue of Marriage Certificate. Although the increase is small, the fee is mandated by statutory legislation, Registration of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Fees) (Amendment) and Multilingual Standard Forms Regulations 2018, SI 2018/1268 , and is one that the PCC is required to collect.
In addition, within the new scheme for parochial fees from 2020 to 2024, Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2019, the PCC will no longer receive the small fee (currently £30) where a funeral service takes place at a crematorium or cemetery, as it does under the 2014 Order.
The new Advice does not depart appreciably from the Guidance produced when the 2014 Order came into effect, although it clarifies the legal position of charging “late brides”. Nevertheless, unlike the statutory provisions for marriage, ecclesiastical law requires that the whole of the marriage rite must be concluded by 6.00pm, (although the signing of the registers may take place after 6.00pm). A priest is therefore constrained from commencing the solemnization of a marriage where it is not possible for this criterion to be met. However, as we noted in our post on the subject, many clergy have other non-financial means of incentivizing promptness.
Note: At L&RUK we do not give legal advice, or purport to do so. This post summarizes the issues arising from the recent Church of England Legal Advisory Commission Opinion on additional charges for weddings and funerals. For specific queries on the application of the legislation, professional legal advice and the opinion of the competent authorities should be sought.