30 January 2019, The Tablet

Warning of post-Brexit VAT threat to historic churches

The House of Commons Library report spells out the uncertainty surrounding the current arrangements that are guaranteed only until March 2020

A new report highlights fears that listed churches may no longer be able to claim back VAT spent on repairs after Brexit.

The report published by the House of Commons Library spells out the uncertainty surrounding the current arrangements that are guaranteed only until March 2020.

Under the Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme, historic churches in the UK can apply for a refund of the VAT they have paid for repairs and alterations at the current rate of 20 per cent.

The scheme was established in 2001 and is run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It covers repairs to the fabric of the building, along with associated professional fees, plus repairs to turret clocks, pews, bells and pipe organs.

The Commons library report points out that there are no specific details as to the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union on VAT. The draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May states that the UK would remain compliant with EU law, including VAT law, during a two year “transition period”. However, since this agreement was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs, the future after 2020 is unclear.

In the event of a “no deal” Brexit, or at the end of the transition period if there is a Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will have complete freedom to determine which goods and services will liable for VAT and the rates charged.

Among the many projects that could be affected is the restoration of Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, south west London. The Grade II* listed church run by the Jesuits is appealing for £1.7 million to carry out essential repairs in the next few years.

Sophie Andreae, vice chairman of the patrimony committee of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “The Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme provides vital help to parishes faced with the enormous costs associated with repairing historic churches.”

Eddie Tulasiewicz, head of communications and public affairs at the National Churches Trust, urged those responsible for looking after churches to make sure that their local MP knows about the importance of the scheme for the future of the UK’s church buildings.

Uncertainty about VAT comes as churches face hefty bills to replace entire roofs that have been stripped of lead by organised gangs.

Among the Grade I listed churches targeted late last year were All Saints' Church, Houghton Conquest, near Bedford and St Mary The Virgin Church in Gamlingay, Cambridgeshire, where the cost of repairs were estimated at £400,000 and £100,000 respectively.

The trend has continued with lead stolen from roofs and towers at at least five more Church of England churches during January. According to one source, thieves are using drones to help them identify the location of lead and how they can reach it.

Michael Angell, Church Operations Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, confirmed that while opportunistic theft of lead from churches has fallen there has been an increase in large thefts by organised gangs.

“This trend has not declined and, as the value of lead continues to increase, it is fair assume that the volume and severity of incidents of metal theft will also increase. We therefore encourage churches to remain vigilant and contact us, for help and advice, or refer to the preventative guidance which is available for all our church customers on our website,” said Mr Angell.

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