Does a church charity have a right to leasehold enfranchisement? Hope Community Church

In Hope Community Church (Wymondham) v Phelan & Ors [2020] EWHC 1240 (Ch), the issue before the Court was whether or not Hope Community Church had the right to convert the lease on its church premises in Wymondham into a freehold, pursuant to s.1 Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Act 1920, as amended: “An Act to authorise the Enfranchisement of the Sites of Places of Worship held under Lease.” Falk J observed at [12] that ‘It is fair to say that the 1920 Act is a little encountered piece of legislation, with just one known contested High Court case, Stradling v Higgins [1932] Ch 143″ – and she certainly wasn’t wrong there.

Background

The claimant church was a private company limited by guarantee and a registered charity [3]. The defendants, the Phelan brothers, acted in their capacity as trustees of the pension fund related to their family business, Phelan Plant Hire [3]. The church had leased the premises, which had previously been used as a workshop, from Phelan Plant Hire and had spent about £850,000 on refurbishments, including a new roof [10]. The church wanted to convert its lease into a freehold: the Phelan family ‘[did] not wish to part with it” [4]. Continue reading