Land & Property and Health & Safety

Land and Property

Section 6 of the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 (No 3) deals with the way in which (a) land (freehold land and leases for a year or more) and (b) personal property to be held on permanent trusts, are to be acquired, held and disposed of by a PCC.

Such property, where it is already held, is to be vested in the Diocesan Board of Finance (‘DBF’), and no new property falling within these classes is to be acquired by a PCC without the consent of the DBF. Any such property newly acquired is also to be vested in the DBF, which holds the property on trust for the PCC. The PCC remains the beneficial owner of the property, but the legal title to the property is vested in the DBF.

If the PCC wishes to dispose of land or personal property which is held on permanent trusts, it will need to consider the following points:

  • The PCC will need to obtain the consent of the DBF to the proposed disposal
  • The PCC is a charity, and may need to obtain the consent of the Charity Commission to the proposed disposal. The Charity Commission sets out helpful guidance on disposals of property in its leaflet CC28 – Disposal of Charity Land
  • The PCC may have acquired or be holding the property on specific trusts set out in a trust deed. This may impose restrictions on how the property or any proceeds of sale may be dealt with.
  • If the property belongs to the church itself, ownership will be vested in the churchwardens, and any disposal would require the consent of the PCC and also a Faculty, to authorize the sale.

Business Rates

In general, Church of England churches and their surrounding or adjoining churchyards will be exempt from business rates as they are places of worship – see section 51 and Schedule 5, paragraph 11 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. This exemption also extends to church halls associated with church buildings.

Other property owned by a PCC, such as a separate burial ground, may however be subject to a non-domestic or business rate assessment. Normally in such cases, the PCC will be able to apply for small business rate relief. This involves completion of a very simple form, obtainable from the relevant district council, following which rating relief will normally be available at 100%, so that no rates will actually be payable. However this is dependant on the application form being completed and submitted, and PCC’s should not automatically assume that relief will be available. In cases of doubt, advice may be sought from the Registry or from the Finance department at Diocesan House.

Health and Safety

The PCC is responsible for health and safety issues in the church and churchyard. Each PCC should adopt and implement its own health and safety policy. Ecclesiastical Insurance have a helpful health and safety policy template on their website at Ecclesiastical Health & Safety Policy, which can be amended online and then downloaded for use by your PCC. The template is worth looking at because it provides a useful checklist of things which can give rise to health and safety problems, and offers suggested ways of mitigating the risk of accidents.

More detailed advice on specific topics is available on the Health and Safety Executive website. If you are contemplating some work which may pose a risk of accident or injury, it will be worth considering their advice on the type(s) of work proposed, so that it can be undertaken safely. Work should not be undertaken by anyone who has not been provided with the necessary training and equipment to enable the work to be done safely. This includes work done both by volunteers and paid contractors.

Where the PCC proposes to let a contract for building or repair work to the church, the contract should include a specific requirement that the work will only be carried out by those who have been properly trained and equipped to do it in a safe manner. The PCC’s architect will be able to give advice on this, but it may be worth asking prospective contractors, particularly on larger projects, for details of their health and safety practices and for information about any recent accidents suffered by them or their staff, to ensure that the PCC deals only with contractors by whom safety at work is given an appropriate level of priority.

It will be necessary to comply in appropriate cases with the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 and attention should also be paid to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 where appropriate. Again, the PCC’s architect should be able to provide guidance on these issues as needed.

Fire Extinguisher Contracts

Every PCC should undertake periodic fire risk assessments in respect of the church building and any other buildings, and make sure that any fire safety recommendations are followed through. Fire extinguishers will normally be needed, and these will need regular maintenance and servicing to ensure that they stay in good working order. However, PCC’s should check the contract for maintenance and servicing of these extinguishers very carefully.

  • First, PCC’s are advised to shop around to make sure that they get the best price for this maintenance and servicing work – don’t accept the first price offered.
  • The Parish Buying website at Parish Buying offers advice on this and other procurement issues and may be able to offer the PCC a better deal.
  • Check any proposed contract for its termination provisions. The contracts offered by many service companies contain lengthy notice periods or cancellation fees for PCC’s wishing to terminate these contracts, even after the initial contractual period has expired. The Registry has recently been consulted about arrangements between a PCC and a company known as Churches Fire Security Limited, whose prices were higher than those available through the Parish Buying Scheme. Churches Fire Security Ltd have insisted on receiving 12 months’ notice to terminate their higher priced arrangement. The moral of this story is that you should read the small print carefully.
  • If in doubt, get in touch with the Registrar to ask for a review of the contract before you sign up.