Arcane church law sounds very familiar

UNDER the heading Homeowners face ruin over church bills, the Sunday Times reported how some parishes in the UK are using an ancient law to force private householders to pay for repairs to churches.

UNDER the heading Homeowners face ruin over church bills, the Sunday Times reported how some parishes in the UK are using an ancient law to force private householders to pay for repairs to churches.

Some of those without insurance to protect them face potentially huge bills and, as one put it, the Church of England has arcane powers to devalue private homes or even make people bankrupt.

The situation here is very similar except the ability to levy substantial sums is more widely spread, affecting all ratepayers, and extends to the living accommodation of the parish rectors.

The Sunday Times had to use freedom of information legislation to obtain the figures for its article and it appears some people have been forced to sell their homes to pay for church repairs.

While the Church of England says it is the parish councils who are using such powers, it is clear the Church itself has a lot of influence over whether they do or not.

Locally, although the Dean of Guernsey becomes irritated over the suggestion, the Church has similar influence over retaining its exclusive property tax, which is why it is still there.

When talking to this newspaper about a possible rift with the Diocese of Winchester and other matters, the Dean insisted that the parish rate was very democratic because it is up to each and every parish whether it decided to levy the ecclesiastical rate or not.

In the absence of that being tested or the Parochial Ecclesiastical Rates Review Committee, which was formed in 2005, reporting definitively, that remains a moot point.

At the same time as parishioners are being charged, however, the Church will this year remit £647,000 to Winchester.

So are islanders being compelled by law to subsidise one particular religion or voluntarily supporting important and beautiful ancient monuments?

Views on that will vary, but it is, and will remain, a controversial area until the compulsion is removed.

In the meantime, as the Sunday Times has made plain, the Church of England is not afraid to make use of ancient laws for its own benefit.